Office of Fellowships and Grants sees record traffic

Jon Ruffin

Whitman’s Office of Fellowships and Grants saw an all-time high for several of its most popular applications this year.

A record 334 students indicated interest or submitted an application to the various financial offers the Office supports as of Jan. 31–up from 255 last year and 236 the year before. The most popular offers are The Fulbright Program, The Watson Fellowship, The Princeton Fellowships, The Truman-Albright Fellowship, The Perry Grant and others. For most of the scholarships and grants, the Office had to interview its own applicants and choose only some to be submitted to the selection committee.

The Office, which took over fellowship and grant duties from the Career Center–now the Student Engagement Center–two years ago, endorses and promotes 74 different fellowships, scholarships or grants. Students showed interest or applied for 66 of these this year, which is a significant increase from last year’s 37.

The application process varies between scholarships, but key to all is the personal statement and the grant purpose. These two pieces, each needing three to five pages of text, outline the personal goals of the applicant and indicate exactly for what the grant money will be used. Applicants spend most of their effort perfecting these components, often enlisting the advice and experience of the members Director Keith Raether and Assistant Director Karen Kinder.

Raether and Kinder have been working in the Office of Fellowships and Grants for two years.

“This year is particularly interesting because if we add up all the Princeton applicants, they surpassed the number of Fulbright applicants, which has never happened before,” said Raether.

He attributes this change to the degree of freedom offered by the Princeton fellowships, including Princeton in Asia, Princeton in Africa and Princeton in Latin America, which don’t lock students into a specific proposal or assignment as much as the Fulbright or Watson offers.

The Fulbright is among the most popular and prestigious of the available fellowships. Senior finalist Isabel Hong applied for an English Teaching Assistantship, which would allow her to travel to Germany to teach English to German students in a classroom setting.

“Keith was there every step of the way, looking over essays and providing information,” she said. “The Office was crucial.”

The Fulbright requires a side project in addition to the primary grant purpose. For this, Hong chose to study language while working with the children of immigrants in Germany. As a first-generation Korean American, the project has a personal connection with her childhood difficulties in learning English.

“I want to work with kids in my shoes,” she remarked.

Senior Andrew Matschiner, a finalist for the Watson grant, also found the Office to be helpful.

“Keith and Karen do a fine job of letting students know about information regarding the available offers,” he said. “Keith is open to ideas and will read the application, and he and Karen work well together.”

Matschiner wants to use his grant money to visit Latin America, where he will study liberation theology regarding Christianity and its sects and practices. Winners of the Watson who travel abroad for their projects cannot touch U.S. soil for the full year of their travels.

Rebecca MacFife, another Watson finalist, wants to use her grant to visit the International Circus Festival in China. She is interested in the cultural impact circuses have on civilizations, and wants to follow a troupe if she can, documenting all of her travels on film.

“You don’t have to have a concrete project in mind, just maybe an idea or interest you want to pursue,” she said of coming into the office.

Though the Fulbright and the Watson attract the most attention, other offerings include the Truman, whose number of nominees increased from zero to four this year, as well as the various Princeton fellowships, two of which (Princeton in Africa and Princeton in Latin America) were not offered before this year. The Office increases the number of programs it promotes every year in an effort to not only increase the opportunities interested students have, but also to encourage new students to consider their options.

“While the applicants are more concerned with the present, as far as getting the money and all, Keith and I look down the road for them. These offers can open doors for résumé building,” said Kinder.

Applications are becoming more detailed as the computer era replaces hard-copy applications with online applications or hybrids of the two.

“Karen is quite meticulous, which is perfect as the applications have quite a bit of nuance to them,” said Raether.

Raether and Kinder both said they enjoy seeing students’ goals into fruition.

“Both of us couldn’t be more thrilled by the interest shown by the students,” said Raether. “We live through the applicants and the process they go through in achieving their goals.”