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Graduating seniors win fellowships, awards

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Members of the class of 2019 received an array of fellowships and awards this year, including two Marshall Scholarships, a Gates Cambridge Scholarship and a dozen Fulbright grants.

Jeffery Thibert, director of the Flatley Center for Undergraduate Scholarly Engagement (CUSE) said students spent months working with CUSE to build their applications and perfect their essays before they were ready to be submitted.

“It’s about six to eight months that people are working on the application,” Thibert said. “The ideal scenario really is that people start working on these in April or May — that’s sort of when they enter the process with us — and then they continue to work with us throughout the summer. Then most of the [highly competitive scholarships] are due in late September or early to mid-October, in that realm. Between April and October, it’s usually at least six months. Now, that’s not required, you don’t have to do it, but often the people who are successful with these have been thinking about the application for that long.”

The application process has become more intense in recent years, as there has been an upward trend in the number of qualified students applying as well as an increase in resources dedicated by universities to help students with their applications, Thibert said.

“These awards get more competitive every year, and I think it’s partially because there’s more awareness of some of these every year,” he said. “The pool is getting so much stronger, even to be a finalist for one of these, an honorable mention for one of these. For some [awards], you have to be nominated by the University or endorsed by the University, even that now is much more of an accomplishment because to just excel in the more and more competitive pool is getting harder and harder.”

Despite an increasingly competitive application process, Thibert said Notre Dame has performed at a high level of success consistently in recent years.

“In the past three years or so we’ve seen an uptick in people receiving the most competitive fellowships,” he said. “There might still be some room to grow, … but I think we’ve hit a pretty good plateau with these things. The performance of the University has been pretty steady and pretty strong.”

The University’s success with the awards can be at least partially explained by the many unique opportunities it offers to undergraduate students that help applicants differentiate themselves, Thibert explained.

“The University, I think, is increasingly emphasizing international education and trying to strengthen the core curriculum in a way that gives people a firmer, general education base while allowing them to go into depth maybe a little earlier than they could have in the past,” Thibert said. “Many of these fellowships are interested in people who have gone beyond the typical undergraduate experience, and one way to do that is to have a significant study abroad experience where you achieve something that you couldn’t have achieved at your home institutions, so people who have studied abroad and do research or have interesting internships — those kinds of thing tend to stand out.”

One such abroad experience is that of senior Caroline McGowan, a neuroscience and behavior major and finalist for the Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship. McGowan said she will be using her Fulbright to teach in Chennai, India, a place where she had previously visited with a Notre Dame group.

“I went to India the summer after my sophomore year on an ISSLP — the International Summer Service Learning Program — and I went to Chennai and worked at a school for children with severe disabilities,” McGowan said. “I was in the classroom in the morning and the occupational therapy room in the afternoon. It was really hard, very complicated, but I loved it. I fell in love with the people, the generosity and the diversity of idea; it’s just really amazing. I knew I wanted to go back.”

While some students had more clear paths from their undergraduate experience to their award, others met the opportunities with more hesitation. Truman Scholarship winner senior Prathm Juneja, a political science and computer science double major, said he was initially unaware of the wide array of opportunities offered by fellowship programs.

“I didn’t want to do the fellowship cycle that some professor had told me about because it just seemed like it was a lot of work for the sake of getting an award, but I was slowly talked into it by Professor Joe Buttigieg, Mayor Pete’s Dad. He taught my literature class my freshman year and we got really close,” Juneja said. “When I looked more into the programs themselves, I realized it might be a little bit about the prestige, but actually the monetary incentive and the help it would give me for graduate school was pretty significant.”

Following the completion of his five-year degree in the coming semesters, Juneja said he will likely pursue a masters degree in public service using the $30,000 granted to him through his scholarship for that purpose. Juneja said he hopes to dedicate his life to public service and says he was inspired in part by the University’s mission.

“The whole premise of Notre Dame as an institution is to be both learning and committing to public service. That’s the idea. That’s what Catholic Social Teaching is all about,” he said. “I think the ethos of the University at large at least pushes a certain amount of students towards public service. Sure, there’s other students who don’t go into it, but I think there’s something about this place that encourages that work.”

Winning a fellowship or scholarship can mean many things, ranging from some money for graduate school to full acceptance and tuition at a specific university. Senior Gregory Serapio-García, winner of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship, will have the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Cambridge in England. Serapio-García said part of his application for the scholarship included outlining his possible dissertation.

“[The dissertation idea] is using social media big data to predict mental health traits and mental illness and collecting that data through Facebook or GroupMe and being very ethically conscious about the data that’s being collected,” he said. “I’m also interested in cross-cultural psychology, so I’ll probably be collecting some of that data, too, but my dissertation should be on social media data and psychology.”

This dissertation idea has background in his experience as a psychology major with a minor in data science, Serapio-García said.

“We have a huge mental healthcare shortage around the world, a shortage of resources for assessment and care, and we’re also sitting on a lot of big data that is being exploited,” he said. “I figured more social scientists need to be trained in this area to use the data for the social good rather than for social exploitation through — I don’t know — political campaigns or advertising, because there’s a lot you can learn about a person through their digital imprint.”

Though the class of 2019 has already achieved a high level of success in the realm of undergraduate awards, Thibert said the window has not closed for many students and alumni to pursue fellowships and scholarships through CUSE and other University resources.

“[Alumni] can still work with CUSE on fellowships applications after they graduate, and a number of the fellowships we work with, you can apply for as an alum,” he said. “For some fellowships there’s kind of a time limit — two or three years out — but others, it can be eight to 10 years out or there’s no limit at all. Every year we have a number of alumni receive fellowships, and I always try to emphasize that people can continue to apply for these things and we will continue to help them.”

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About Thomas Murphy

Thomas is a sophomore in the Program of Liberal Studies, where he double minors in Business & Economics and Philosophy, Politics, and Economics. He is ideologically in favor of the Oxford Comma, and encourages readers to contact their local representatives regarding the codification of its usage.

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