Students take the cake in fellowship programs

Amy Hamblin

Starting with a Rhodes Scholarship winner in the fall, the largest number of Northwestern students and alumni in recent memory won fellowships this year, according to an official at the university’s Office of Fellowships.

“It has been a year for breaking new ground,” said Chris Hager, assistant director of the Office of Fellowships. “NU students are being recognized as being the up-and-coming leaders of tomorrow.”

Three out of the four NU students nominated for the Goldwater Scholarship — which pays for part of a student’s tuition for graduate school — were recognized for their achievements in engineering and the sciences.

NU alumni also took home three Mellon Fellowships, which are awarded to students pursuing a doctorate in the humanities. Only students at Brown, Columbia and Princeton universities received more Mellon Fellowships, Hager added.

Most of the fellowships awarded to NU students were announced recently, but the Marshall and Rhodes scholars — two competitive fellowships — were named in the fall.

Hager said this year’s successes will allow NU to establish itself as a powerhouse in the fellowship world.

“Success breeds success,” he said. “As more Northwestern students win, more students become aware.”

Stephen Fisher, NU’s associate provost of undergraduate education, agreed that students become less intimidated by fellowships when they see their peers receive recognition.

“There’s a growing awareness that Northwestern students are winning these fellowships,” Fisher said.

Keeping in contact with recent graduates — often a difficult task — increases the number of students who apply, Hager said. He added that frequent communication with alumni contributed to this year’s large number of winners. NU’s recipients of the Mellon, Luce and Mitchell fellowships were all alumni.

NU students and alumni also received a wide range of fellowships spanning different academic disciplines.

“It has been exciting to see people from an array of backgrounds win,” Hager said. “There’s not a particular profile for the winners.”

For many NU students, fellowships are the only way to pay for graduate education.

One of the Mellon Scholars, Nicholas Soodik, said he was “pumped” to find out he had won.

The Mellon Fellowship will pay for Soodik’s tuition and fees during his first year of graduate school in addition to giving him a $17,500 stipend. He will attend Cornell University to study English in the fall.

Soodik, Weinberg ’03, spent the last year working odd jobs — from waiting tables and installing air conditioners to doing temporary office work.

“I had a lot of pretty influential teachers that directed and inspired me to apply,” he said. “I started thinking about applying at the end of my senior year.”

The application process included a personal statement that faculty advisers helped Soodik revise. After advancing to the next level, Soodik flew to Chicago from his home in Seattle for an interview.

“The process was a headache,” he said. “The interview was pretty intense.”

Although the Goldwater Scholarship application didn’t require an interview, recipient Justin Ionita said he found the paperwork tedious.

Ionita, a McCormick junior, received the scholarship for his research in computational biological pathways. He said he relied on several faculty members to guide him through the process.

“I definitely saw a huge difference between my first preliminary essay and the one I turned in,” Ionita said. “There are a lot of opportunities out there.”