Carnegie Mellon University

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October 23, 2013

Fulbright Advising Position Bridges Academic, Student Affairs

By Abby Simmons

When it comes to winning Fulbrights, CMU has been hitting them out of the park. All it took was a little recruiting and coaching.

Since 1995, 42 CMU students and recent alumni have been accepted into the prestigious Fulbright U.S. Student Scholar program.

The Fellowships and Scholarships Office (FSO) has increased student success by identifying potential candidates and coaching them throughout the application process with help from the campus community.

"Our ability to attract and learn about students and have students learn about us initially was very haphazard," said Stephanie Wallach, assistant vice provost for undergraduate education and director of the FSO and Undergraduate Research Office.

Now, the FSO connects students to scholarship opportunities through engagement in undergraduate research and participation in Odyssey, a three-day program for select sophomores prior to the spring semester. Recruitment also includes outreach to faculty, Student Affairs staff, advisers and athletic coaches for recommendations.

"The Fulbright is a very labor-intensive type of scholarship. It involves the whole campus and is so broad in terms of how it's structured and who it can attract," Wallach said.

When the Fulbright adviser position became open in 2012, Wallach sought to formalize the relationship between Student Affairs and the FSO. She approached Gina Casalegno, dean of Student Affairs, and John Hannon, associate dean of Student Affairs, and pitched the idea of dedicating a portion of Helen Wang's (DC'99) time to the role. In addition to her position as director of First-Year Student Life, Wang had been a volunteer workshop leader for the Odyssey program.

"They worked hard to make this happen," Wallach said.

The group, with the support of Vice Provost for Education Amy Burkert, worked with Human Resources to develop a job description and define the amount of time a Student Affairs representative would dedicate to the adviser position.

"What we uncovered right away was that Helen didn't know many of the students we knew. But she knew a whole cohort of students who would not have found their way to the Fulbright opportunity had they lacked this Student Affairs connection," Wallach said.

This year's Fulbright adviser, Joanna Dickert, also is assistant director of the Office of the Dean of Student Affairs.

"Joanna is such an ideal person for this position because she understands the campus and how to counsel students. She also knows about tough love and abiding by deadlines," Wallach said.

Dickert has found that students have very different contacts.

"Some students have deep connections with the staff members in Student Affairs. But we have found that there are distinct groups of students whose strongest relationships are with their faculty and departmental advisers," she said.

Dickert said the Fulbright adviser role complements her other roles on campus.

"It's a really unique opportunity for students to create their own individualized educational experience for the year following graduation or several years after graduation," Dickert said. "It's well aligned with the aspirations for holistic student development that we stress in Student Affairs."

While the FSO celebrates the success of Fulbright recipients, Wallach said her team is just as interested in observing how the process of preparing applications moves students forward in terms of their understanding of themselves, what they want from their remaining time at CMU and how their future is taking shape.

The experience also has created new opportunities for the FSO and Student Affairs to partner. FSO staff have introduced students to student organizations aligned with their interests, and Student Affairs staff have suggested students for a broad range of other fellowship and scholarships such as the Churchill, Goldwater or Marshall programs.

"It's a good indication that at Carnegie Mellon, if you have an idea and ask, you will likely be able to make it come to fruition. We are very fortunate. Not all schools can do this," Wallach said.