In the realm of highly coveted national and international scholarships, the Ivy schools have dominated the winners' circles. But Ohio University is gaining ground by nurturing students to exceed even their own expectations.
By Jennifer Kirksey Smith
Odd, you might think, that Harvard doctoral student Jason Puskar is annoyed so many Ivy League students dominate the field for the most prestigious of national and international scholarships.
It's not that he doesn't think they deserve those Rhodes, Marshall and Mellon awards. It's that he's certain there are students at his first alma mater, Ohio University, who are just as qualified as some of the Ivy Leaguers who traditionally prevail in such winners' circles.
"I want to balance the scales a little bit. I want state schools to be doing as well, because they can — and they deserve it," says Puskar, BSJ and AB '94.
Ann Brown, in a quiet, sunny office on the second floor of 35 Park Place, delves into the lives and aspirations of such deserving students every day. And she has built a network of individuals on campus and off (people like Puskar, who critiques Ohio University students' award application essays by e-mail and phone) to work on their behalf.
A nurse in a former life, which may explain her nurturing spirit, Brown was assistant dean of the Honors Tutorial College before becoming founding director of the University's Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. In that lead role, she helps identify and prepare Ohio University students to compete for top national and international honors.
Brown's dedication -- and that of Beth Clodfelter, the University's U.S. Fulbright Program adviser -- paid off in a high-profile way this year when Ohio University students received 14 nationally and internationally competitive awards, including six Fulbrights.
Diamond in the rough
Bobby McDonie, BA '03, knows that big payoffs are possible when faculty and staff support students. He's been on the receiving end of their care and commitment.
McDonie met Brown in the spring of 2002 at an award information session and soon made a decision to apply for Rhodes, Marshall and Mellon scholarships. That summer, he began an e-mail exchange with Brown.
"He was kind of unsure of himself, not certain about what he wanted to do," Brown says.
During the application process, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards helped McDonie refine his skills and provided tools that he could use beyond this award competition. He learned not only to believe in his abilities but to articulate his interesting and complex ideas calmly and profoundly.
A College of Arts and Sciences student in the Honors Tutorial English program, McDonie was an excellent writer who planned to attend graduate school to study English literature. After a tutorial that next fall with Associate Professor of English Marsha Dutton, a new path of learning opened up for him.
"I saw him discover a whole area of potential interest that he never thought of before," says Dutton, who noticed McDonie being drawn to themes and authors of medieval literature. One particular Geoffrey Chaucer poem captured his attention, and he continued work on a class paper with that focus after the tutorial ended. It turned into his honors thesis. "He realized he had a real gift," Dutton says.
McDonie put together excellent award applications. He needed eight letters of recommendation for the Rhodes and four for the Marshall. As Brown orchestrated the process, McDonie endured mock interview after mock interview. ("Too many!" he jokes. "Probably 10 in all.")
It was not wasted time, though.
"I felt the transition," he says. "Dr. Dutton was on the very first mock interview panel before the Rhodes, then the one for the Mellon, which was months later. I think I was a different person there. On the first one, I wanted to hide underneath the table."
McDonie persevered, though, and he became one of just 94 students nationwide this past spring to earn the Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship. The award will provide a tuition waiver and $17,500 stipend for his first year of doctoral study in English at the University of California, Irvine.
To be continued
This is the first segment of this article, which is from the Fall 2003 edition of Ohio Today. Look for additional segments in the coming weeks.
Jennifer Kirksey Smith is acting editor of Outlook.