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Forum Explores 'Scholarship and Discernment'

05/12/11

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: May 12, 2011

Finding and nurturing your intellectual passion — and connecting it with academic and extracurricular work — was the subject of a recent panel discussion that featured Boston College seniors Anne Kornahrens and Alicia Johnson and other area college students, all finalists for some of the country’s most prestigious post-graduate fellowships.  

The event, “Scholarship and Discernment” — which took place April 27 in McGuinn 121 — was sponsored by the BC University Fellowships Committee and the College of Arts and Sciences Honors Program.    

Joining Kornahrens and Johnson were: 2004 Rhodes Scholar Olivia Rissland, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Whitehead Institute; 2011 Rhodes finalist Sara Minkara of Wellesley College; and Kenzie Bok, a 2011 Marshall Scholar from Harvard University. Amanda Rothschild ’11 — a Rhodes finalist who was one of only 40 college students nation-wide selected for the Hertog Political Studies Program — moderated the discussion.  

The five panelists represented wide-ranging interests — including science, law, children’s advocacy and sexual health issues — as well as impressive scholarship and fellowship honors, such as Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater and National Science Foundation. Each shared insights and experiences they said helped them to identify their field or discipline, and to seek resources enabling them to cultivate these areas of interest.  

Kornahrens — a Presidential Scholar who earned a 2010 Goldwater Scholarship, an NSF grant and most recently a Skaggs-Oxford Scholarship — talked about the pressures that come with deciding which scholarships and fellowships to pursue. She recalled feeling worried as to whether accepting such an opportunity would end up affecting every choice, academic or career-related, she would make in the future.   

“When you’re in the bubble, looking at these very prestigious awards, grants and scholarships,” she said, “it’s hard to see that it doesn’t have to change who you are, and it’s not a decision you have to make for the rest of your life. Really, what it does is open doors.”  

Johnson, a 2010 Truman finalist, recounted how early on at BC she developed an interest in sexual health and women’s health issues, one she has pursued in both extracurricular activities and academics, including through research with Sociology Professor Sharlene Hesse-Biber. She said the application process for the Truman Scholarship, while unsuccessful in her case, helped her to focus on and define her post-BC goals.  

“I had five very long essays that I had to write — they really had you map out what you’re doing now, what graduate school you want to go to, what you want to do afterwards. That was intimidating, because I had no idea what I was going to do.  

“But sitting down with the application forced me to think about what I wanted to do. A lot of it’s changed, a lot of it is still the same, and I’m sure I’m not going to do the same thing I predicted 10 years from now. But I did sit down and say, ‘I want to work on sexual health, I want to go to a graduate school for public policy, I want to work for Planned Parenthood’ — it was a huge learning process for me.”  

Kornahrens agreed: “The conversations, both with myself and with other people, I’ve had during all the applications I’ve worked on have helped get me to where I am now. I feel more enlightened by knowing about these other things that I could’ve done, and that there are many paths out there for me.”