Ohio University students, with the guidance of dedicated faculty and staff, landed a record-breaking 49 national and international awards in 2006-07 and refined their academic and life goals in the process.
Sept. 12, 2007
By Anita Martin
It often starts small: A class, a book, even a casual conversation can spark a blazing passion, leading to research, creative projects and professional pursuits. When this happens, professors like to say that students "catch fire." The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards is there to fan the flames.
With ONCA's help, success in national academic award competitions has spread like wildfire through Ohio University. This past academic year, a greater number of students -- 121 -- applied for nationally competitive awards than ever before, and they won a record-breaking 49. The office's success rate has jumped almost tenfold since ONCA's first year, 1999-2000, when just 18 students applied and five won nationally competitive awards.
"There's a growing trend of confidence and initiative when it comes to national award competition at Ohio University," says Ann Brown, director of ONCA. "A lot of students are -- on their own -- discovering new awards that we've never heard of before. More and more professors recognize that their students can compete at this level. It reflects a changing culture on campus."
The 2006-07 total included eight Fulbright Awards (six of whom were undergraduates) and three Goldwater Scholarships. Ohio University leads the state in both of those awards. Assisting students in their pursuit of such honors are Beth Clodfelter, director of U.S. Fulbright Programs and liaison for international partnerships, who works out of the Office of International Affairs, and ONCA.
In addition, Ohio University students landed other very competitive awards such as the NOAA Hollings, the Gilman and Phi Kappa Phi Graduate Fellowships. The awards support students as they study abroad, learn foreign languages, perform research and complete dissertations.
Brown notes that while she wants students to be successful in the competitions, not everyone can "win" -- a relative term, especially when considering the most competitive awards, in which even finalist status confers star quality. What's more, the application process itself offers intrinsic rewards by helping students to articulate their dreams and make connections that can assist in achieving them.
"Applying for an award and writing personal statements forced me to think more actively and critically about who I am as a person and what interests and goals I have than I would have otherwise," says Andy Goodhart, a political science senior who has already applied for four nationally competitive awards, two of which he won, and will apply for a Marshall scholarship this year to study international relations and political violence in the United Kingdom.
According to Clodfelter, Ohio University's upward momentum in national academic competitions coincides with a similar national trend. Competition seems to increase every year both in quantity (last year the U.S. Fulbright program received a record 6,000 applications) and, evidently, in quality.
"In December, I went to observe Fulbright national selection committee meetings, and the program officers were startled by how strong last year's pool of applicants was; they were really having a hard time cutting people," Clodfelter says.
Fiercer national competition results from what Clodfelter calls a "democratization" of nationally competitive awards. At first, she says, primarily Ivy League attendees applied for these awards. Now, more students at public universities such as Ohio are beginning to fully understand their competitive potential.
Story posted at 9:13 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12. Updated at 4:47 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14.