Davidson's interest in helping students successfully transition from graduation to further study and career is getting a boost through establishment of a full-time staff position for a Director of Fellowships.
Members of the faculty's Graduate Fellowships Committee previously bore sole responsibility for helping the college's top students apply for the broad array of available scholastic honors, from high profile Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships to Watson Fellowships and Fulbright Grants to Davidson's own W. Thomas Smith Scholarship. But that effort was an additional task on their already full plate of teaching, research and community service.
Dana Professor of German Scott Denham, who has served on the committee since 1991 and chaired it since 2000, conducted a study that revealed that Davidson was the only school among its peers without a full-time graduate fellowships coordinator.
No longer! The college has recently hired Ted Ogaldez Ph.D. as its first Director of Fellowships. He will lead the effort to identify capable student candidates for fellowships and work with the existing faculty committee to guide them through the application process. Ogaldez will be assisted in the office with half-time administrative help from college staffer Carrie Mahoney.
The key to success, Ogaldez said, is early awareness. "The competition for fellowships requires students to start early," he said. "I want to work through faculty members in writing classes and science classes to make students aware of the opportunities. Simply touching base with students early will go a long way toward continuing and improving our success."
Verna Case, Associate Dean for Teaching, Learning and Research who will supervise Ogaldez, said Davidson's ad hoc system of faculty advising to this point has been remarkably successful in helping students win some post-baccalaureate awards, such as those sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Fulbright Foundation and Watson Foundation. During the 2011-2012 school year, the committee recruited and worked with 80 students pursuing scholarship and fellowship opportunities, and about 15 were successful. Davidson has national finalists for the most competitive Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, and Luce scholarships almost every year, but it's been 12 years since a Davidson student received a Rhodes Scholarship, and the last Marshall recipient was in 2009.
Case said, "Yes, we've been pretty successful. But for who we are-and who our students are-we can do better. To prepare students to apply for fellowships and get them in a position to win them, requires someone working on it full-time."
However, Ogaldez's success won't be measured solely by the number of fellowships awarded. The more important number, Denham said, will be how many apply and have contact with the Office of Fellowships. "I want for students who would never think of applying for summer research funding as undergraduates to do that and be successful," he said. "Then maybe a quarter of them will go and apply for post-baccalaureate funding. But whether students win a fellowship or not, essay writing and mock interviews in the application process can be extremely beneficial. They grow tremendously from the exercise of articulating their commitments and priorities in front of other people... learning how to say, 'This is what I've learned, and this is what I love.'"
There are a vast array of fellowships available to students. The Graduate Fellowships Committee has identified 24 from external organizations. In addition, the college itself sponsors many awards, such as grants from the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, Davidson Research Initiative and Staley Program.
Denham likes to organize the scholarships into four categories. The most numerous are "post baccalaureate-external" sponsored by outside foundations not associated with the college. There is also one "post baccalaureate-internal" award funded by the college -- the W. Thomas Smith Scholarship. College-funded research awards such as the Davidson Research Initiative, Kemp, and Abernethy, as well as Dean Rusk travel grants are categorized as "pre baccalaureate-internal." There are also a few "pre baccalaureate-external," such as Truman, Goldwater, Udall and Beinecke.
The Graduate Fellowships Committee has been increasingly aware of the importance of early intervention, and developed new initiatives to meet the need. For the past four years the committee has staged a dinner for top first-year students. The affair includes a talk from a member of the faculty committee, plus remarks from a recent alumnus who received a fellowship. The committee has also sent letters to highly qualified students, developed a web site providing basic information on available scholarships and reorganized its operations to distribute the workload more equitably among its 11 members. Committee members also host information meetings about the Watson Fellowship and Fulbright grants several times a year.
Early career guidance is important also because different awards have different requirements. Some insist on a certain grade point average, and won't even consider students with a lower number. Some fellowships require essays and interviews. National Science Foundations fellowships don't require interviews, but candidates need to demonstrate sustained involvement in research. Case noted, "Some are looking for students with a nimble mind who think in creative ways. Mock interviews can make a big difference in helping students get bumped up from the 'interview' level to the 'accept level.'"
Denham said The Davidson Trust provides another reason for a concerted effort on fellowships. He said, "The Davidson Trust is helping us recruit more students from families that are new to college, and are also new to competitive grants and fellowships. We want to let all students know that if they have a good idea and are motivated, they can be competitive, especially for some of the internal awards. We hope Ted can build the program to produce 50 Fulbright applicants, 50 Watsons, and 100 students applying to DRI!"
Both Denham and Ogaldez have personal experience with the opportunities available, and the importance of experienced guidance through the fellowship application process.
Denham recalled, "For years the process just followed institutional tradition. I worked with Fulbright candidates and other professors worked with other scholarships, and we worked with students more or less informally. And that sometimes was problematic. I got one Fulbright candidate referred to me the day before applications were due. The student and I found a typewriter in the old union and worked until two in the morning typing it up."
A native of Belize, Ogaldez also brings to his position a cautionary personal tale of the importance of formal guidance and advocacy for fellowships. In 1998 he applied for a fellowship through Belize's Ministry of Foreign Affairs for graduate study in higher education at Colorado State University. For weeks he received no reply. Finally he drove to the ministry to inquire, and found out the agency needed additional paperwork. Someone had called him about it - one time - and never called again.
Ogaldez completed the paperwork and got his fellowship. He earned his doctoral degree at Colorado State University and has enjoyed a successful 16-year career in student services there and at the University of Vermont that made him an ideal candidate for the newly created position at Davidson.
Denham said the Graduate Fellowships Committee will count on Ogaldez to identify qualified candidates and help arrange their assignment to members of the committee for one-on-one application help. Applications for most graduate fellowships are due very early in the fall semester, so Ogaldez has this spring semester to get to know the campus, members of the faculty, and students seeking to apply. He will also spend time getting acquainted with peers at other schools, and join the National Association of Fellowship Advising. Case said, "The beauty of a new position like this is that you have more freedom to shape it to meet the need. Ted will have lots of opportunities to be creative."
Case concluded, "Davidson students have a lot of raw talent, so Ogaldez and the committee will help channel their talents and understanding of the value of pursuing graduate fellowships. They can be quite a stepping stone, as exemplified by the career of Davidson Rhodes Scholar Elizabeth Kiss '83, who is now president of Agnes Scott College!