Fellowships ‘cultivate citizens of the world,’ prof says

Chris Kirk

For Office of Fellowships Director Sara Vaux, winning fellowships is not about prestige. It’s about helping students gain an understanding of culture.

Her philosophy has paid off. According to a Chronicle of Higher Education report, Northwestern ranked fourth in the nation last year among research institutions for the number of winners of the Fulbright Scholarship.

Fellowships like the Fulbright Scholarship can fund research, scholastic or work experiences and can have profound effects on an individual’s professional career and personal life. More NU students are winning fellowships than ever before.

With the help of her three colleagues, Vaux helped students win 200 fellowships last year.

When NU established the office in 1998, NU students won only 89 fellowships. That year, Vaux, also a religion professor, took up the task of encouraging students to apply and helping them through the rigorous application process.

“We’re working to expand their minds intellectually, emotionally, globally: every way you can think of,” Vaux said. “That’s what this process is aimed for. It isn’t just aimed to produce little baby winners.”

Weinberg senior Rachel Berkowitz applied for a Fulbright Scholarship to Ghana this year. If she wins, she will go to Ghana in the fall of 2009 for a full year of independent research.

“I’m very relieved to have it done,” she said.

Berkowitz said the application process is still fresh in her mind, and that she feels like she did the best she could on her application.

“I definitely got frustrated,” she said. “But I knew what they were doing was for the benefit of me.”

Mark Dvorak-Little, Weinberg ’01, won the Luce Scholarship in 2005. It paid for a one-year internship in the Philippines, where he worked to commercialize indigenous medicine amidst opposition from rural communist movements.

“It sparked my understanding and curiosity about a deep understanding of other cultures,” Dvorak-Little said.

Dvorak-Little, now a management consultant working in South Korea, still feels enriched by the experience.

“I come to the experience of working with other cultures, like here in Korea, with … a deeper understanding of what people are trying to communicate when they pass messages,” he said.

Elizabeth Pardoe, associate director of the Office of Fellowships, also understands the kind of lasting reverberation a fellowship can have on an individual’s life; she won the Marshall Scholarship, which funded her tuition at Cambridge.

“Fellowships, without fail, put you in touch with folks who are from other disciplines and other institutions, so that you have a broader network,” Pardoe said.

Associate Director Stephen Hill said only about five to 15 percent of NU applicants win fellowships. But the rest do not walk away empty-handed.

“The benefit for those who do not find success the first time around (is) equally strong, because they are thinking in extraordinarily productive ways and getting into good habits of mind,” Hill said.

Vaux said she takes pride in what she has accomplished but does not let her success get to her head.

“We’re not chasing numbers; we’re trying to cultivate citizens of the world and fine human beings,” she said. “Fortunately, we have a lot of raw material to work with.”

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