Faculty Role Is Major Factor in BC Fellowship Success
Effort to aid students in landing grad awards achieves positive results
By Mark Sullivan
A familiar slogan comes to mind on considering the impressive number of national fellowships won in recent years by Boston College students:
Thank a Teacher.
One protege of Prof. Michael Resler (German Studies), who co-coordinates BC's Fulbright Grant program, did just that. Katherine Stainken '04, one of five Fulbright winners produced by German Studies last year, recently sent a postcard to Resler from Karlsruhe, Germany, where she is currently studying atmospheric chemistry at a meteorological institute:
"This postcard is long overdue. I've learned so much, experienced so much, and done so much over here. THANK YOU! I can't tell you how much I'm enjoying my time here and how much I love Deutschland and Europe. My language skills are great, I've met people from all over the world, and every day I'm stimulated and challenged by something. Every day! I can't believe how uneducated I was about so many things before coming here, and I'm going to try to extend my stay and next year maybe begin my doctoral work. I'm not really doing a research project right now - just taking classes - but I am researching the culture and the people and the world, and I want to make a difference!"
"For me," said Resler, "this message just says it all."
Much of the credit for BC's success in the scholarship sweepstakes goes to Resler and the other faculty mentors of the University Fellowships Committee, whose efforts at identifying and grooming prospective winners have met with remarkable results.
The 157 fellowships won by BC undergraduates since the panel's drive began 10 years ago include the school's first two Rhodes Scholarships; five Marshalls; one Churchill; 69 Fulbrights; four Mellons; five Trumans, and eight Goldwaters, among others [see chart].
With application deadlines now largely over, and the fellowship-granting foundations and organizations beginning the selection process for this year's winners, University Fellowship Committee members are upbeat about BC's performance of recent years, and its prospects for the years ahead.
"Our students are among the best in the country; their successes in winning fellowships prove that," said Prof. Donald Hafner (Political Science), chairman of the University Fellowships Committee.
"The great burst of successes in the past few years, however, seems proof that what BC needed was a revolution in thinking - a new belief among both faculty and students that success was possible.
"In remarkably few years, my faculty colleagues who make up the University Fellowships Committee have sparked that revolution.
"We get a great deal of help these days from the faculty generally, who pass word to us of students with uncommon achievements and who do something else that is vital - encouraging our students to elevate their ambitions and to believe in themselves."
A desire to "make a difference" through public service is a criterion of the Truman Scholarship, which has been won five times in seven years by Boston College students, leading BC to be named by a "Truman Honor Institution" by the Harry S Truman Scholarship Foundation.
"I find working with students on the Truman to be especially satisfying because I work with students who are determined to make the world a better place," said Assoc. Prof. Kenji Hayao (Political Science), campus Truman coordinator. "The application process helps guide them in thinking about how they can use their talents and energy to make the biggest beneficial impact possible."
Three BC students in the past six years have won the coveted Marshall Scholarship that supports graduate study at a university in the United Kingdom, and rivals the Rhodes in prestige.
"Very real opportunities become open to a student who receives one of these awards," said Assoc. Prof. Rein Uritam (Physics), campus Marshall coordinator. "It makes the student a member of a different and more select peer group and labels the student for life, thereby opening doors to various new opportunities.
Uritam himself attended Oxford on a Marshall, and has since served as a president of the Association of Marshall Scholars. His efforts at promoting Anglo-American educational exchanges have led him to be decorated by the British government as an honorary Member of the Order of the British Empire.
"I now work enthusiastically to have more and more Boston College students win the Marshall Scholarship and see what impact that has on their lives," Uritam said.
Boston College sent off its first two Rhodes Scholars to Oxford in 2004, and had two students among the final candidates for this year [see separate story]. But campus Rhodes coordinator Hafner likes to tell a story of a Rhodes that got away.
"My favorite fellowships story is a tale of tenacity and triumph," said Hafner. "Daniel Brunet, Class of 2001, tried for the Rhodes in his senior year, even though I warned him that as a theater arts major from New York, his odds of winning were infinitesimal.
"Sure enough, he didn't even get invited for a state interview. But while he was laboring on his Rhodes application, he decided to try for a Fulbright Grant as well. He won the Fulbright to Germany, although if I remember right, they left him dangling in agonizing uncertainty for such a long time that he became persuaded the Fulbright people had also rejected him.
"Dan made a terrific success of his Fulbright year as a theater director in Germany, achieving a rare a celebrity for someone so young, and a 'foreigner' to boot. Dan stays in touch, and we laugh about his 'year of rejections.' I'm persuaded that Dan's delight at his triumphs has been all the more intense because he proved something to himself - and to the Rhodes panel that never sent him an invitation."
More information on the University Fellowships Committee is available at www.bc.edu/offices/ufel.