A Fine Fellowship

Biomed student Phillip Tomezsko credits fellowships for improving his skills and sharpening his career goals — and he hasn't even won one yet. So far, the 2011 graduate has applied for two fellowships with the help of Drexel's Fellowships Office — he was the University's first-ever Truman Scholarship finalist, and he's currently waiting for a decision on his Fulbright application to work with an HIV-vaccine clinic in South Africa. “I can very honestly say that applying for these fellowships has helped me decide what I am really interested in and take steps to understand what goes into that career goal,” said Tomezsko.

Since it was founded within the Pennoni Honors College in 2007, the Fellowships Office has helped hundreds of Drexel students discover, apply for, and win highly competitive fellowships, including the Fulbright, Goldwater, and NSF GRFP scholarships. In fact, in the 2010-2011 year, more students Drexel won these fellowships than ever before.

But one of the greatest benefits in applying for these fellowships is the application process itself. Rachel Semigran is a Drexel graduate currently studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London after winning the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Graduate Arts Award. Before she won the award, she applied to, but didn’t win, several other fellowships including the Fulbright, Marshall, and Mitchell scholarships. She notes that the application process was kind of a shock:

I was an English major and…I knew how to create a well-constructed essay that argued the innate sexism in Hemingway, but I was never really asked to write about Rachel Semigran. Fellowship and scholarship applications demand that of students. Through many revisions and advice from my mentors, I finally let go of this humble vision I had of myself. I looked at my accomplishments, my hard work and my ambition and learned to put it on paper. I was forced to see myself the way other people (particularly academics, administrators, and employers) see me. It was a lot harder than I thought.

This sort of skill-building and personal growth is a benefit that Cindy Schaarschmidt, Assistant Director of the Fellowships Office, likes to highlight. “Students typically learn so much in the process of applying," Schaarschmidt said. "Not only do they improve their writing and interviews skills, they also clarify and strengthen their own intellectual and professional ambitions, and learn how to meet rigorous expectations and open themselves up to critique in order to do so.”

Of course, the ultimate goal of the Fellowships Office is to help students win fellowships, and the office offers several resources to that end. One of their main efforts is to simply create awareness of the available fellowships among both faculty and students. And, said Schaarschmidt, “We also work directly and intensely with individual students, helping them create their strongest possible applications. In addition to meeting with students one-on-one, we collaborate with departments across the University to host skill-building workshops for fellowship applicants.”

If you're a student interested in learning more about available fellowships, you can visit the Fellowship Office's website. And Tomezsko offers this advice to aspiring applicants: “Apply to a bunch of fellowships; don't get discouraged by the work. Be willing to dig deep and figure out what you really want to get out of life.” One thing is certain — whether you win the fellowship or not, simply applying is big step in achieving your goals.