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Tuesday, December 2, 2003
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A league of contenders

A League of Contenders (from Ohio Today)Part two

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

Meager beginnings

McDonie's success is an example of the outcome possible under the carefully honed application process Brown and Clodfelter have built. It encompasses general information sessions, faculty mentoring and recommendations, draft essay reviews and lots of feedback.

A loose confederation of faculty and administrators across campus previously handled this work. And they did a good job. But the task was labor-intensive for individuals with already heavy schedules.

"It's just that they didn't have the time or the resources. That's the biggest thing that the office has contributed," Brown says. "I can organize committees and make sure the student hands in the paperwork on time. Faculty can devote their time to helping the students develop interests or research proposals -- the intellectual components."

Harvard's Puskar can vouch for the positive changes, because he applied for a Rhodes scholarship as an undergraduate.

"It was more or less a do-it-yourself operation," he says. "I had a lot of moral support and people going out of their way to help, but they had other jobs."

And although he didn't get an interview for the Rhodes, he was determined to pursue a master's at the University of Oxford anyway. He earned one in 1997.

Brown and Clodfelter are making the road easier for today's students. They also are proving wrong the naysayers who questioned whether students from Ohio University -- a state school in the Midwest -- could successfully compete for such prestigious honors. Many of the University's students are first-generation college attendees. Some of these, and others, are working their way through school and don't have a lot of time for outside activities that would broaden their experiences and enable them to better compete for national and international awards.

"We're the only school in the Mid-American Conference competing at this level, and within the state, the only other school doing as well as we are is Ohio State," says Brown, whose office was created four years ago with the help of a $25,000 grant from the 1804 Fund. "These awards are not just for the Ivy Leagues anymore. It comes down to access for these scholarships, and students at state schools across the country are getting them."

The mentor's role

Associate Prof. of Environmental and Plant Biology Harvey Ballard has served as a mentor for students Jennifer DeMuria and Deborah Lucas. Photo by Rick FaticaMuch of the credit for the rising number of awardees goes to faculty, who spark students' intellectual interests, refer them to Brown and Clodfelter and serve as mentors.

Deborah Lucas, a Morris K. Udall Scholarship recipient, was encouraged by a job with Associate Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Harvey Ballard. Her task: to perform a statistical study on the genus Gloeospermum, a group of large violet trees in lowland rainforests that produce berries. She continued the work after the one-year post ended.

"She was wildly excited about the research," Ballard says. "She caught fire, and I sure wasn't going to put it out."

A sophomore at the time, Lucas' project represented master's level work, making her one of two top experts on this violet in the world. Ballard is the other.

Lucas, now a senior, returned to school after 20 years in the workforce. She is majoring in environmental geography and international studies and has participated in research projects in Botswana, Guatemala, Belize and Israel.

"In her development as an undergraduate, something happened. Self-imposed boundaries exploded," Ballard says. Once she got involved in her studies and the research, looking to a nationally competitive award like the Udall was a natural next step. The scholarship, which rewards students dedicated to environmental issues, is providing her with a $5,000 stipend for her senior year.

It is precisely this dedication by Ballard and other faculty who give extra time, energy and interest that Brown says is so wonderful in a mentor and makes a critical difference for students.

Clodfelter agrees, noting that professors can be enormously helpful to students applying for Fulbright scholarships to conduct independent research projects. The Fulbright program, which offers opportunities in more than 100 countries, was instituted right after World War II with the intention of improving international relations on a human scale.

"(The faculty) have expertise in how to conduct research and can provide invaluable insight into the process for students who may never have tackled a 10-month research project," Clodfelter explains.

Ballard did just that for Fulbright recipient Jennifer DeMuria, BA '99, who is pursuing a dual master's in environmental studies and Southeast Asian studies.

Her curiosity about genetics and plant development led her to Ballard's molecular systematics course, which prompted her to pursue a scientifically rigorous approach to botany. Soon she had landed a scholarship from the United States Indonesian Society to study in Indonesia during the summer of 2002 and a Foreign Language Area Studies Fellowship to continue her study of the Indonesian language at Ohio University. Now, with the Fulbright in her grasp, she is studying and cataloging the genus Rinorea, a group of tree violets in Indonesia, this year and hopes to help conserve these rare violets and contribute to future conservation of other species. .

To be continued
This is the second segment of this article, which is from the Fall 2003 edition of Ohio Today. Watch for the final segment in the coming weeks.

Jennifer Kirksey Smith is acting editor of Outlook.

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