Truman Scholarship, Pickering Fellowship Winners Mark Banner Year for UK Student Scholars

UK scholars talk about their experience with the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Video by Jenny Wells.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 30, 2018) More than 45 of the University of Kentucky's students and recent graduates had the world's most prestigious scholarship, fellowship and internship organizations take note this year. The newest class of highly regarded scholars include UK’s 14th Truman Scholar and first Pickering Fellow.

Helping prepare these UK students and recent alumni to compete for and win such honors is the mission of the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Under the guidance and leadership of Pat Whitlow, the office identifies and works with young scholars on the application process for large scholastic prizes awarded by regional, national and international sources.

This year UK students and alumni were recognized with the following awards:

In addition, four more Wildcats were selected for teaching abroad programs not organized by JET or Fulbright and a dozen other UK students working through Whitlow and/or their colleges were awarded various internships, scholarships and ambassadorships from NASA.

“Under Dr. Whitlow’s leadership, UK has reaped the benefits of an intentional, strategic approach to recruiting, mentoring and supporting student applicants for prestigious awards,” said Philipp Kraemer, the Chellgren Chair for Undergraduate Excellence and professor of psychology. “The 2017-2018 year has been especially fruitful, in terms of what that success means to both students and UK’s reputation as home to academic excellence.”

One of the primary responsibilities of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards is to administer a campus nomination process for 13 major awards that require institutional endorsement. For these specific opportunities, which includes such honors as the Truman and Rhodes Scholarships, students must apply first to a campus review committee. The university committee then selects the students who will represent UK. Nominees receive feedback on their application and are officially nominated by the institution. 

But the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards doesn't just work with those 13 awards alone, the primary goal of the office is to recruit and prepare UK students with strong academic and extracurricular records to help them be successful in pursuing any nationally or internationally competitive programs. The office shares its knowledge of the process helping UK students find scholarships, fellowships and even internships that match their area of study or research, which are funded by nonprofit groups, government agencies and companies.

Part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life at UK, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards can help students determine if they are eligible for a specific award, assist them in crafting personal essays, offer opportunities to practice for an interview, and shepherd them through the application and/or nomination process. These efforts help the office reach its goal to increase the number of UK students and alumni who apply for, and receive, these national and international awards each year.

And the assistance the office gives is vastly appreciated. "The office of Nationally Competitive Awards helped me a lot with the application,” said anthropology doctoral student Anahid Matossian, who was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to conduct ethnographic research in Yerevan, Armenia. “In terms of any questions I had, Dr. Whitlow was completely receptive to helping me with that as well as helping me to decide what to put in my essays and other aspects of the application, such as other extracurricular activities I might be interested in doing in the year I'm gone."

Truman Scholar Hadeel Abdallah also credited the office with putting the scholarship on her radar through information sessions. “I remember Dr. Pat Whitlow and Dr. Philip Kraemer were talking to UK students and they were saying: ‘You, guys, have the ability to achieve what you want to achieve.’ I think just hearing that meant a lot to me, because I wasn't a student at high school that was top of the top, in stem courses, and all of that. I just took regular AP classes and I came to UK. Hearing that encouragement and having people that believed in me, push me to do my best, really validated what I wanted to do. That meant a lot to me.”

Funding opportunities abound, ranging from the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields to the arts and humanities for many student scholars.

In addition to programs that work with the university, there are many scholarship opportunities that allow direct application. For those awards, the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards also is willing to provide advice and assistance to students preparing an application.

The process of applying for a nationally or internationally competitive scholarship is a learning experience. It challenges the student to think through his or her career plans, to set ambitious long-term goals, and to imagine how they can use their talents to shape and change the world. To be a successful candidate for one of these highly competitive awards, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards recommends students begin to consider opportunities as early as their freshman year, building extracurricular and leadership background, as well as participating in community and public service while maintaining a high grade-point average.

But students need not wait to fall to get started, in fact Whitlow encourages them to take advantage of the summer months in preparing to apply for these opportunities. Her office, located in 221 Funkhouser Building, is ready and waiting for students wanting to talk with her in person or by phone.

photo of Hadeel Abdallah learning she won a Truman Scholarship
photo of Dr. Capilouto and two student scholars at Maxwell Place
photo of Capiloutos and student scholars at Maxwell Place