Editor’s Note: This post is by Jill Goetz, Karna Walter, and Emily Kotay of the University Arizona College of Engineering and Honors College and was first published on January 17, 2016, on the UA News site.
Two University of Arizona seniors have won prestigious Churchill Scholarships to complete a one-year master’s degree program at the University of Cambridge in England.
UA College of Engineering majors Travis Sawyer and Jeannie Wilkening, both students in the Honors College, are two of only 15 Churchill Scholars selected in 2016-2017 for outstanding academic achievement and proven research talent in science, engineering or mathematics.
Both are the third and fourth UA students to receive the award since it was first granted by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States in 1963.
The UA is able to nominate only two students to apply for the Churchill Scholarship each year, and this year is the first time that both UA nominees have been awarded the scholarship.
Churchill Scholarships range from $50,000 to $60,000 and cover a year of tuition and fees at Cambridge University’s Churchill College. Scholars also receive travel and living allowances and may get additional funding for presentations at international conferences and visits to other universities.
Capturing Magic From Van Gogh’s Paintings
Sawyer is majoring in optical sciences and engineering, a program jointly administered by the College of Optical Sciences and College of Engineering. He is developing visual recognition software using different wavelengths, such as infrared and X-ray, to help scientists capture more detailed images for making discoveries in fields as different as art preservation, astronomy and medicine.
Travis Sawyer (photo credit Graeme Hunt)
For his master of philosophy, or MPhil, degree in physics, he will conduct research on applying hyperspectral imaging for detecting early-stage cancer with Cambridge scientist Sarah Bohndiek, whose lab is affiliated with the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute.
An Optics Ambassador with a 4.0 grade-point average throughout college, Sawyer came to optics in an unusual way. He was misdiagnosed with leukemia his freshman year and became fascinated with the optical instruments doctors used to examine him and, ultimately, ensure he was healthy.
Sawyer’s rising stardom was recognized in 2014 with a $10,000 Astronaut Scholarship, which he won again in 2015 — a first-ever feat at the UA. In 2015, he also won a Goldwater Scholarship, and his UA student team won the Robert S. Hilburn Memorial Optical Design Competition for its camera system to be sent to Saturn’s moon Titan.
“Hopefully, I can make a contribution or invent a technology that helps someone in the same way optics helped me,” Travis Sawyer says.
Sawyer credits his research mentors for their guidance. After Cambridge, Sawyer plans to pursue doctoral and postdoctoral work and establish his own research lab as a university professor.
Engineering for a Healthier Planet
Chemical engineering student Jeannie Wilkening studies how human activity affects biogeochemical cycles, the movement of water and other compounds through the atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. She is particularly interested in how these processes relate to climate change and in developing models for more environmentally sustainable technologies.
“My experiences over the past four years have been instrumental in getting me to this point. I’ve been surrounded by incredible faculty, friends and classmates who have supported me, challenged me and taught me so much,” Wilkening says.
Jeannie Wilkening (photo courtesy Univ of Arizona College of Engineering)
For her MPhil in earth sciences, she will conduct research with Cambridge scientist Alexandra Turchyn on carbon, sulfur and iron cycling in marshes and climate implications.
The Churchill Scholarship is the latest in a string of top honors and internships for Wilkening. She entered the UA as a National Merit Scholar and Flinn Scholar and, like Sawyer, won a Goldwater Scholarship in 2015.
She won a NASA Space Grant and interned at Princeton University and the University of Michigan through the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates Program. She belongs to the Tau Beta Pi and Omega Chi Epsilon engineering honor societies, is an Ambassador for both the Honors College and the College of Engineering and is president of the UA chapter of the Society of Women Engineers.
“Since I was a child, I have been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by great female role models who instilled a passion in me for science and engineering,” Wilkening said.
One of them was her mother, Betsy Wilkening. After earning her own bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the UA in 1982, she became a popular science teacher at Richard B. Wilson Jr. Middle School. Two of her students there were Wilkening and Sawyer.
After Cambridge, Jeannie Wilkening plans to return to the U.S. to pursue a Ph.D. in environmental engineering and then an academic career, teaching and conducting research.
Editor’s Note: The following post was written by Tricia Brown of the University of Iowa.
University of Iowa student Jeffrey Ding says he’s unsure yet how being named a Rhodes scholar will change his life, but he’s already getting more than the usual number of friend requests on Facebook.
Jeffrey Ding: Rhodes Scholar, Truman Scholar, Boren Scholar, and Udall Scholar
Ding, a senior from Iowa City, was selected as one of 32 American Rhodes scholars on Nov. 22 from a field of 869 applicants; 90 are named worldwide. He’ll receive $50,000 annually for two years and will have the opportunity to attend Oxford University in England.
“I feel a mix of excitement and gratefulness,” Ding writes via email from Beijing, where he’s enrolled in Peking University’s School of Economics. “I’m excited to make the most of this opportunity to study about the world at Oxford, and I am grateful to all the people who made this opportunity possible.”
Ding, a member of the Honors Program and a student in the UI’s Henry B. Tippie College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will graduate in May with degrees in economics (B.B.A.), political science (B.S.), and Asian languages and literature (B.A.), along with a certificate in international business.
He adds the Rhodes scholarship to his cache of other awards and honors. Earlier in 2015, he was awarded the Udall scholarship and the Truman scholarship. He is the only UI student to have received all three. He arrived at the UI as a first-year presidential scholar, the highest award the UI gives to incoming undergraduates. He’s also the recipient of the Stanley undergraduate award for international research and was named a Boren scholar through UI International Programs.
A total of 19 UI students have been awarded Rhodes scholarships since 1905. The university’s most recent Rhodes scholar was Renugan Raidoo, in 2011.
“Jeffrey has had an incredible experience here at Iowa,” says Kelly Thornburg, director of scholar development at the UI Honors Program. “Being a part of the Rhodes scholar community will help him make what he was already doing that much more extraordinary. More than the money, it’s really about the greater connection to other people who are like him and who care about the world in the same way and will challenge him to do more in ways he might not have considered.”
The Rhodes scholarship is a well-deserved honor for Ding, and for the entire campus, says P. Barry Butler, UI executive vice president and provost.
“Jeffrey’s achievements exemplify the world-class academic experience available at the UI,” he says.
Ding has been involved with the UI Climate Narrative Project, for which he presented in-depth research and performed field studies and personal interviews with farmers and agricultural experts. He served as vice president of the UI Student Government and is a member of the Chinese Church of Iowa City.
Thornburg says that aside from being “very, very smart,” Ding is just like other people his age.
“He’s not an intellectual snob,” she says. “He loves tennis and plays video games and is pretty obsessive about sports. He’s very good at choosing where he spends his time. He’s also a lot of fun and a good friend.”
She says she thinks Ding won this award because he makes getting to know people a priority, and he seeks out ways he can help others. He has also cultivated strong relationships with many UI faculty members and takes a genuine interest in their research.
“He really sees people,” she says.
At a time when UI athletics is receiving so much attention—the football team was named champion of the Big Ten West division after defeating Purdue on Nov. 21—Thornburg says Ding’s award is a testament to the quality of the university as a whole.
“The University of Iowa offers really incredible opportunities to undergraduates. It is amazing that we are doing so well in football, and it is so wonderful to have this very prominent example of what our students are able to do as scholars and leaders on our campus,” she says.
Ding is approaching this honor with modesty. He says people aren’t surprised when they learn he is from Iowa.
“I have so much love and pride for both Iowa and the University of Iowa that people who know me and find out that I received the Rhodes already see Iowa as a part of who I am,” he says.
Editor’s Note: The following post comes from the University of Georgia and staff writer Camie Williams.
Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia Honors student Meredith Paker has been named a recipient of the Marshall Scholarship to pursue graduate studies in the United Kingdom. Up to 40 Marshall Scholars are selected each year, and Paker is UGA’s third student in the last decade to earn the award and the seventh in the university’s history.
Paker, a native of Madison, Wisconsin, and a recipient of UGA’s Foundation Fellowship, plans to pursue a master’s degree in economic and social history from the University of Oxford. She will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Terry College of Business and a minor in mathematics from the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
While at UGA, Paker has conducted economics research with faculty members Jonathan Williams, David Bradford and William Lastrapes. Contributing to a growing literature on the prevalence and impact of off-label prescriptions in the U.S. pharmaceuticals market, she has recently presented her work at the International Health Economics Association conference in Italy and at the UGA Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Symposium. After completing her master’s at Oxford, her goal is to pursue a doctorate in economics and begin a career as an academic economist.
“The University of Georgia is very proud of Meredith for this accomplishment,” said President Jere W. Morehead. “Her selection as a Marshall Scholar is a testament to the quality of UGA students and the benefits of undergraduate research. I am confident that Meredith will excel in her studies at Oxford University and that she will make a significant impact on the field of economics throughout her career.”
The Marshall Scholarship, established by an Act of Parliament in 1953, is one of the highest academic honors bestowed on American post-baccalaureate students. More than 900 students from across the U.S. apply annually. The program, which was created in gratitude for U.S. assistance to the United Kingdom during World War II under the Marshall Plan, provides funding for up to three years of graduate study at any United Kingdom university in any field.
“I am so pleased for Meredith, and I am appreciative of the excellent faculty mentoring she has received,” said David S. Williams, associate provost and director of UGA’s Honors Program. “I think it is important to note that Meredith is not only a gifted thinker and researcher, but it is clear that she is also deeply passionate about using her intellect for the betterment of society.”
In addition to being a recipient of the Foundation Fellowship, UGA’s premier undergraduate scholarship, Paker is an inductee to the Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies. She has studied abroad at Oxford and in Tanzania, where she summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2014.
“I am so excited to explore a new area of my field for the next two years,” said Paker. “With the Marshall Scholarship, I will become the best economist I can be. I can’t thank the Honors Program and my research mentors enough for their support.”
Paker has served as an Honors teaching assistant for first-year Honors students and is vice president of the UGA Economics Society. She leads a Girl Scout troop through Campus Scouts and hosts a weekly radio show on UGA’s student-run radio station, WUOG 90.5FM.
“Earning this prestigious honor is the byproduct of Meredith’s hard work in two different, but critical, arenas,” said Jessica Hunt, major scholarships coordinator in the UGA Honors Program. “Meredith has been committed to academic excellence, undergraduate research, and civic engagement throughout her four years at UGA, and she has also spent several months successfully navigating the arduous application and interview process. The Marshall award is a testament to her talent, her dedication to the field of economics, and her desire to positively impact local, national, and international communities.”
Once again, the Rhodes Scholarships continue to be awarded disproportionately to students from Ivy League universities, along with those from a few other select private universities. But outstanding students from Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Youngstown State managed to earn what remains the most prestigious scholarship in the world.
The latest list of Rhodes Scholars (awarded in November 2015 for the year 2016) includes five from Harvard, four from Princeton, three from Yale, and one each from Brown and Penn, giving the Ivy League 14 of the 32 awards won by American students for the second year in a row. Rhodes awards for the year 2014 included 11 winners from Ivy schools; in 2013 there were 16.
The University of Virginia has had four Rhodes Scholars since 2013. UVA and North Carolina at Chapel Hill are the leaders among all state universities in the number of Rhodes Scholars earned by their graduates. UVA has 51 Rhodes Scholars, and UNC Chapel Hill has 49.
Below are the 32 American Rhodes Scholars for 2016, by Rhodes district number, university, name, and state of residence (not state in which college is located). The state of California has two Rhodes districts, one for the northern part of the state and the second for the southern part.
Harvard University, Ms. Grace E. Huckins, Massachusetts
Harvard University, Mr. Garrett M. Lam, Massachusetts
University of Virginia, Mr. Russell C. Bogue, Connecticut
Princeton University, Mr. Evan J. Soltas, New Jersey
Harvard University, Mr. Neil M. Alacha, New York
Brown University, Mr. Andrew N. Kaplan, New York
University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Jennifer C. Hebert, Pennsylvania
Harvard University, Ms. Rivka B. Hyland, Pennsylvania
Georgetown University, Ms. Hannah G. Schneider, DC
Yale University, Mr. Isaac M. Stanley, DC
Oberlin College, Mr. Machmud A. Makhmudov, Georgia
Emory University, Ms. Leah S. Michalove, Georgia
New York University, Mr. Zachary S. Fine, Lousiana
Millsaps College, Ms. Ericka M. Wheeler, Mississippi
Rice University, Mr. Thomas M. Carroll, Arizona
Duke University, Ms. Laura C. Roberts, Texas
Duke University, Mr. John C. Ruckelshaus IV, Indiana
Northeastern University, Ms. Logan C. Jackson, Kentucky
Ohio State University, Ms. Ilhan A. Dahir, Ohio
Youngstown State University, Ms. Ashley E. Orr, Ohio
Michigan State University, Ms. Sarah B. Kovan, Michigan
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mr. Colin T. Higgins, Wisconsin
University of Iowa, Mr. Jeffrey Ding, Iowa
Princeton University, Mr. Richard J. Lu, Missouri
University of Notre Dame, Ms. Emily M. Mediate, Colorado
College of Saint Benedict, Ms. Rachel E. Mullin, South Dakota
Yale University, Mr. Jared C. Milfred, Oregon
Yale University, Mr. Mason Y. JiShoreline, Washington
United States Naval Academy, Ms. Megan G. Musilli, California
Princeton University, Ms. Katherine K. Clifton, Hawaii
Princeton University, Ms. Cameron M. Platt, California
Harvard University, Mr. Hassaan Shahawy, California
“I have lived the immigrant experience.” Brenda Ramirez.
Ramirez was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a child, gaining U.S. citizenship in 2012.
Ramirez, of Romeoville, Illinois, is a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and Honors College majoring in law and society and corporate communication. After she graduates she plans to study refugees and migration from a global perspective. She is planning a future in law and public policy with the goal of improving how immigrant populations are supplied with needed services and resources.
“I have lived the immigrant experience, and it is imperative for me to give a voice to others like me,” she said.
“We are thrilled for Brenda. She was one of the Honors College’s first mentors, lending peer support and guidance to others,” said Rhonda Phillips, dean of the Honors College. “Brenda exemplifies what we strive to help our students develop – leadership skills, interdisciplinary knowledge, and a commitment to global and community engagement.”
“Brenda is an outstanding liberal arts student who leads by example in the classroom on campus and beyond,” said David Reingold, the Justin S. Morrill Dean of Liberal Arts. “She represents the very best at Purdue University and her passion for addressing global issues is powerful and her determination to succeed and help others is inspiring.”
NISO develops student-scholars’ skills as they prepare their applications for Purdue’s nominations for prestigious awards. The office also guides students through their applications with info sessions, writing workshops, one-on-one meetings, mock interviews and all the details of scholarship competitions.
Source: Rosanne Altstatt, Purdue National and International Scholarships Office, firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two detailed articles that describe the complex and often confusing process of becoming a National Merit Scholar. You can read the first segment here.
Author Jane Mueller Fly isan attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Houston-Downtown Campus. Here is a sentence from part two:
“I know you don’t like to be annoying, but get over it. Remember, a full ride to college hangs in the balance.” The full article, below, tells you why.
In Part One, I discussed the steps in the National Merit Scholarship competition. Of course, it is the student who must ace the PSAT and have the impressive high school resume required to progress all the way to National Merit Scholar. But parents have a role to play as well, ensuring that their students have the best possible chance to grab the golden National Merit ring.
As parents, we walk a fine line between appropriately guiding our children, and stunting their growth with the wind from our helicopter blades. When do you step back and let them learn from their failures? When do you step in to help?
The National Merit Scholarship competition is one place where parent involvement may be vital to the student’s success. If the thought of too much involvement makes you cringe, however, consider this: should your student become a National Merit Finalist, he or she will be able to choose from a long list of colleges and universities offering generous scholarships, including many 4-year full rides. Let the hovering begin.
Many critics of the National Merit Scholarship competition believe it is based entirely on the PSAT, a short test administered by College Board and taken during the junior year of high school. The truth, however, is that students who ultimately progress to National Merit Scholar have cleared many more hurdles than just a high PSAT score. For example, the student must have stellar grades throughout high school. One D, or a couple of Cs, is enough to eliminate students from the competition. If your student is already a senior, then this advice comes a bit too late. But if you have younger students, or an older student with early-onset senioritis, you now have one more reason to encourage your student to keep up the grades.
As junior year approaches, many students begin preparing for the PSAT and other standardized tests. Prep courses, in person or online, may improve your student’s scores, but there is no reason to shell out the big bucks. Free online help is available from sources such as Khan Academy, and PSAT/SAT study guides are another inexpensive alternative. The parent’s role is to encourage your student to study for the PSAT. In particular, be sure they complete at least a couple of timed PSATs for practice. It will help them with pacing during the one that counts.
Of course, once test day is over, you and your student will be eager to see the scores. College Board sends PSAT scores to principals in December, but many schools wait until after winter break to distribute the scores and the code needed by students to view test results online. Keep track of the dates. When PSAT scores are due, don’t be shy about asking the school when scores will be distributed. Better yet, have your student ask.
Once you’ve seen the score, you may wonder whether your student is still in the running for National Merit Scholar. Many online forums have state-by-state lists showing the PSAT cutoff scores required in past years, so while you won’t know for certain for many months whether your student’s PSAT score will qualify him or her for Semifinalist, you can at least get some indication of where your student stands.
Of course every student should now be gearing up for the SAT and ACT. The PSAT score should give you an idea of areas requiring more focus. Your math genius may need to hone her Critical Reading skills. Your future writer may need to review the quadratic formula. For kids whose PSAT scores indicate they may qualify as National Merit Semifinalists, the SAT takes on new meaning. Be sure your student signs up and takes the SAT junior year, preferably while the PSAT material is still fresh. The goal for the National Merit competition is to reach at least a 1960 on the SAT, as this has historically been the score deemed to “confirm” the student’s PSAT score. (See Part One of this article for the method of calculating the SAT score for purposes of the National Merit Scholarship competition).
By taking the SAT during junior year, your student will have ample opportunities to retake the test if necessary to earn of score of 1960. Don’t forget that College Board must send the SAT score to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. This is a great use of one of your free SAT score reports. If it turns out that the SAT score does not meet or exceed 1960, no harm done. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation will accept the highest score, so your student can retake the SAT and submit the new scores.
This is a good time to stress three important points. First, the PSAT and SAT are products of College Board. The National Merit program, however, is run by a private non-profit called the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, or NMSC. College Board and NMSC are two different entities. Second, as many frustrated parents have learned, most communication related to the PSAT and the National Merit Scholarship competition is sent to students via their high school principals.Third, many school administrators are unaware that the correspondence they receive has not also been sent to the student. One parent was told flat out by the principal that students know their PSAT scores well before the school is notified. While this would certainly make sense, it just is not true.
Another parent was advised by a guidance counselor that NMSC mails Semifinalist letters to students’ home addresses. Again, not true, unless your student is home-schooled, in which case the school and home address are the same. But it is completely understandable that the principal and guidance counselor would believe the information had already been sent to you. And while, for many parents and students, news from NMSC is of highest priority, your high school administrators must also deal with matters such as new education legislation and a sophomore smoking weed in the parking lot. So cut them some slack.
Sometime in April, principals will be notified which, if any, of their students have scored in the top 50,000 nationwide. The principal is asked to verify data submitted by the student that confirms the student’s eligibility for the competition. As usual, this notification is not sent to parents or students, and very often the school does not pass the information on to parents, so don’t be surprised if you are never notified that your student is on the list. By now you should already know your student’s PSAT score and the online forums will be buzzing with news of the nationwide score needed to place in the top 50,000. If you think your student’s name should be on the list, but you cannot relax without knowing for sure, by all means contact the school or, better yet, have your student do so.
While parents and students are eager for this news, the more significant notification from NMSC arrives in September and, as usual, is sent to the principal. This notification provides a letter for each student who has qualified, by virtue of the PSAT score, as one of 16,000 Semifinalists. The letter includes the login information needed so that the student may begin the online application for Finalist. The letter also, unfortunately, advises the principal that the information is not to be made public until a later date. While the letter does in fact permit the principal to notify parents and students of Semifinalist standing, the policy at many schools is to not release the information to anyone, not even to students and parents, until the moratorium on publicity is lifted.If your student is not one of the lucky ones called immediately to the principal’s office for the good news, then keep an eye on the online forums where a state-by-state cutoff list will begin to materialize as qualifying students post their scores.
Eventually, though, your student must gain access to the letter sent to the principal. Parents, don’t be timid. By now you’ve been somewhat assured, by complete strangers who posted state cutoff scores online, that your student has qualified as a Semifinalist. Have your student talk to his guidance counselor, and if that doesn’t work, send an email or place a call yourself. Remember, the good people at the school probably believe that NMSC sent you an identical letter. And they have that stoned sophomore to deal with. They won’t mind a friendly email from you:
“Dear Ms. Jones, We are eagerly awaiting news as to whether our son has qualified as a National Merit Semifinalist, and I just learned that notification letters have been sent to the high schools. I know you’re busy, but could you please let me know if my son is a Semifinalist? If so, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation says he has to have the login information from the letter in order to complete an online application, so would you please also give him a copy of the letter?“
There. That was easy.
So now you have the letter containing the secret code, and your student can log in to the NMSC website to begin the application. Be sure your student takes the application, including the essay, seriously. An anecdote has circled for years about a permanent Semifinalist (a student who did not progress to Finalist) whose essay lambasted the National Merit program. This is not a time for your child to become an anecdote. The essay matters. Once complete, be sure your student’s part of the application, and confirming SAT score, are submitted on time.
The other half of the application is to be completed by someone at the high school, and while it seems this is out of your control, it behooves you to stay on top of the process. It is also in the best interest of the school for your student, and all the school’s Semifinalists, to advance in the competition.
This part of the application requires that the principal “endorse” the student–a no brainer unless your kid was once that stoned sophomore or had other behavioral transgressions. The school must also list each course your student completed and grades (semester or quarter grades, depending upon which grades are used in your school’s GPA calculations). If your student has even one D or one or two Cs during high school, that may be enough to disqualify him or her from the competition. Be sure the guidance counselor realizes this and ask that it be addressed in the application. An explanation may make the difference. For example, the guidance counselor can address facts such as if the grade was in 9th grade and the student has matured since then, the student had a major illness that semester, etc. The school must also evaluate the student’s academic achievement, extracurricular accomplishments and personal character and qualities, along with rigor of courses. If your school has more than one Semifinalist, all can be ranked at the highest level, so be sure your guidance counselor understands this.
Finally, the guidance counselor must submit a recommendation for the student. Perhaps your student is well known in the counselor’s office. But for many students, particularly in large schools, the guidance counselor has never had an opportunity to really get to know them. Writing a recommendation letter may be a challenge. So help your student put together a short resume listing things he or she may wish to have included in the recommendation letter: favorite courses, extracurricular activities, leadership positions, awards, community service commitments, employment, etc. Then have your student deliver the resume in person (preferably) or by email to the guidance counselor (or whomever is going to write the recommendation letter) with a short note.
“Dear Ms. Jones, Thank you for writing the National Merit recommendation letter for me. Here is a short resume I put together for you, just in case you need details about my activities in high school.”
If the guidance counselor needs the information, it will be readily available.
Parents are always worried that a deadline will be missed. In this regard, let me assure you of two things. First, you have a phone. Shortly before the deadline, pick up the phone and call NMSC. They will confirm whether the school has submitted the online application, and whether the SAT score requirement has been met. If the application has not yet been submitted, you have time to send a friendly reminder to the school. Then check back with NMSC. Then remind the school again. Lather, rinse, repeat. I know you don’t like to be annoying, but get over it. Remember, a full ride to college hangs in the balance. Your school administrators would prefer a friendly reminder as the deadline approaches rather than an irate phone call after the deadline has passed. Second, the NMSC makes great efforts to ensure that no student falls through the cracks, particularly over something out of the student’s control. Rest assured that even if the school fails to submit the application on time, or the SAT score is not received, or any number of other items is missing, a reminder will be sent.
Finally, there is an appeal process through NMSC available for students who do not progress to Finalist. But, as 15 out of 16 Semifinalists do progress to Finalist, I certainly hope you won’t need to appeal.
In summary, your student is busy being a senior, and could easily miss an important deadline. And your school’s administrators are busy dealing with more issues than you can imagine. So while you may not wish to be a helicopter parent, this is one time when you need to hover just a bit.
Editor’s Note: This is the first of two detailed articles that describe the complex and often confusing process of becoming a National Merit Scholar. If you are already familiar with the PSAT qualifying test itself and the preliminary steps, you can scroll down to where you are in the process. At the end of the article is a discussion of the special terminology used by the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. The next installment will focus on the parent’s role in the process.
Author Jane Mueller Fly isan attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Houston-Downtown Campus.
In October of each year, 1.5 million high school juniors will sit for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, or PSAT/NMSQT. For many, the test is just what the name implies: a preliminary SAT. But for others it is the opening bell for two years of anxiety also known as the National Merit Scholarship competition.
The Competition Begins with the PSAT. The PSAT/NMSQT (let’s just call it the PSAT) is the initial hurdle students must clear on the way to becoming National Merit Scholars. Scores are sent in December to the student’s high school. As you will see, notification through the high school is a continuing National Merit theme. The policy at many schools is to wait until after winter break to distribute the scores. So students and parents wait. Update: Students who took the October 2015 test should be able to get their scores on January 7 from the College Board.
The Top 50,000 Scores Nationwide. In April, high school principals are notified which, if any, of their students are among the top scoring 50,000 juniors nationwide. The principals are asked to confirm that those students are eligible for the National Merit Scholarship competition. These 50,000 students will continue in the competition. The remaining 1.45 million juniors are out.
The score required to rank in the top 50,000 fluctuates year to year. For students in the class of 2016, who took the PSAT as juniors in the fall of 2014, a score of 202 placed them in the top 50,000 scorers. Update: Students who took the PSAT in October 2015 will receive two scores, one a total test score ranging from 320 to 152o, and the other a selection index score from 48 to 228. Please see this recent post for qualifying selection index scores for the NMS Class of 2017.
Students in the top 50,000 scorers are guaranteed to be at least Commended Students, but all students are hoping to progress to National Merit Semi-Finalist. At this point in the competition, students and parents alike should hunker down for the long wait, because Semifinalists will not be notified until September of their senior year.
Semifinalists: The Top Scores by State. The lone criterion for progressing to Semifinalist is the PSAT score. Like the score required for Commended Students, the Semifinalist cutoff fluctuates year to year. But unlike the Commended Student cutoff score (209 for the class of 2017), which is the same for all students nationwide, the score required to progress to Semifinalist depends on the state in which the student attends high school. For example, students in the class of 2017 in North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming progressed to Semifinalist with a score of 209, while New Jersey seniors needed a stellar 222.
Perhaps you noticed that the class of 2017 Semifinalist cutoff score in the four lowest scoring states is the same as the nationwide Commended Student cutoff score. This means that there are no Commended Students in the class of 2017 in those four states, but don’t expect complaints from those students, as they have all progressed to Semifinalist.
Approximately 16,000 students will meet or exceed their state’s cutoff score, and will therefore be named Semifinalists. In early September of their senior year, they will be notified by, you guessed it, their high school principals. At this point, of the top scoring 50,000 students, the 34,000 students who are not named Semifinalists are officially National Merit Commended Students. This is of course a great honor, but a disappointment to many students, particularly to students who scored 221 in New Jersey, knowing that they would be Semifinalists in the other 49 states.
While the score required to progress to semifinalist varies from state to state, it is important to note that the NMSC does not publicize the state cutoff scores. This is a cause of great frustration to students eagerly awaiting a congratulatory call to the principal’s office. The letter sent by NMSC to high school principals in early September names the Semifinalists, and provides important login information Semifinalists need in order to complete the online application for Finalist. The letter advises principals the news may be shared only with the students and their families, not anyone else, including media sources, until a later date
Many principals choose to withhold the information from the anxious students, however, until the date the information may be made public. Other principals reasonably but erroneously believe that students have already received the news at their home addresses. Not true, as every Semifinalist knows. In this age of Internet forums and homeschoolers, however, the state-by-state cutoff scores tend to leak out. Homeschool “principals” who received the Semifinalist letters at their homes, and those seniors whose principals already shared the news, post their qualifying scores, or their heartbreaking just-misses, to online forums. A Texas student excitedly posts that she made Semifinalist with her score of 221, but her best friend did not with a score of 219, and later a homeschool parent posts that her son made the cut with a 220. And so it goes, state by state, until a complete state cutoff list materializes.
At this point in the National Merit Competition, it has been eleven months since the students sat for the PSAT exam in the fall of their junior year. Anxiety builds.
Finalists. The next step for the 16,000 Semifinalists is to submit an application to the National Merit Scholarship Corporation, or NMSC. The application is done entirely online, and may be accessed only by using the code included in the letter to the high school principal. Students and parents alike agonize over delays in gaining access to the secret code and hence the application. Once the student finally obtains the login details from the high school principal, the application is quite straightforward. The student is required to write a short essay about, perhaps, a person or experience that influenced him or her. The student must also list extracurricular activities, honors, employment, etc.
One additional requirement is that the student submit a “confirming” SAT score.Traditionally, an SAT score of 1960 is sufficient to “confirm” the student’s PSAT score. The confirming score is not the student’s actual SAT score, however. It is based on a unique calculation of the student’s Math subscore plus the Critical Reading subscore plus a Writing Skills score calculated by multiplying the student’s Writing Skills multiple choice score by 10.
Meanwhile, the student’s guidance counselor should be hard at work completing his or her half of the application requiring the principal’s endorsement of the student, a recommendation letter for the student, courses and grades for the first three years of high school, and an evaluation of the student’s course rigor, academic achievement, extracurricular accomplishments and personal character and qualities. The completed applications are due in October.
After the application is submitted, the waiting game begins again. Sometime in February, 1000 students will receive letters at their home addresses advising them that they are not advancing to Finalist. Their high school principal is also notified. Throughout February, checking the mailbox is a stressful ordeal, not only for students whose high school grades leave much to be desired, but also for the 4.0 student who worries that his course load was too light, or wonders if his guidance counselor might have written a not-so-good recommendation. Anxious mailbox stalking continues until good news arrives for the 15,000 students who will become Finalists.
The 1000 who do not advance in the competition are now “Permanent Semifinalists.”Anecdotal evidence from online forums indicates that these 1000 students often had low grades in high school. One D or a couple of Cs, even if those grades were earned freshman year, is enough to knock a student out of the competition. Other students with such grades, however, do progress to Finalist. Perhaps a compelling essay, an unusually rigorous course load, or a convincing recommendation from the guidance counselor, tips the scales.
Naming Your First Choice College. Once the 15,000 Semifinalists have been selected, decisions must be made as to which students will receive official Merit Scholarship awards. Students may log on to the NMSC website and enter the name of their first choice college or may choose “undecided.” By the deadline, however, at the end of May (or earlier for some colleges), students should have named their first choice college. Otherwise, they will not be eligible for a college-sponsored Merit Scholarship award.
National Merit Scholars. Of the 15,000 Finalists, approximately 7,600 will become National Merit Scholars. It is perhaps this moniker that is most confusing, as often the term National Merit Scholar is used for all students earning Commended Student, Semifinalist or Finalist status. In fact, National Merit Scholar is a specific designation reserved for only those Finalists who are awarded an official Merit Scholarship award. The great news, however, is that this recognition is in the hands of the student.
Official Merit Scholarship awards derive from three sources. The first source, the NMSC itself, awards $2500 scholarships. The second source is corporations, which award approximately 1000 scholarships, usually to children of employees. Currently there are about 240 corporate sponsors. The third source, and the one that is in the hands of the students, is colleges and universities. Approximately 200 colleges and universities, eager to enroll National Merit Finalists, offer official Merit Scholarship awards to 4000 students each year.
National Competition? What Do You Think? Each year, as the online forums buzz with news of the PSAT cutoff scores needed to progress to Semifinalist in each state, the National Merit naysayers complain about the broad range of qualifying scores. It does not seem fair that a 202 in Wyoming can become a National Merit Scholar, earning a 4-year full ride to college, while a 224 in New Jersey is out of the competition at the Commended Student level. The competition is not, say the naysayers, “national”.
As a parent myself, in a state with a traditionally high PSAT cutoff score, I understand the frustration. The NMSC, however, is a private non-profit corporation, and is free to set rules as it sees fit. It is, after all, giving away money to lots of students, which is much better than not giving away money, right? The competition is “national” in that each state is awarded a number of Semifinalists based on that state’s share of graduating seniors. The more graduating seniors in a state, the more Semifinalists that state will have. When all PSATs are graded, and listed from highest to lowest scores, a line is drawn at the score that will most nearly result in the correct number of Semifinalists from each individual state. Each state is equally represented on a per capita basis.
Many believe a more fair process would provide one nationwide Semifinalist cutoff score, but that would result in a greater number of Semifinalists from the high-scoring states. New Jersey, California and Massachusetts would be brimming with Semifinalists, and ultimately, therefore, National Merit Scholars, while certain other states would have few. And that, in my mind, would not result in a truly “national” competition.
The Parent’s Role in the National Merit Scholarship Competition. While hand-wringing is an excellent place to start, I have some other ideas. Stay tuned for the next installment.
Vocabulary: Still Confused? If you are gearing up for the National Merit Scholarship competition, you might as well learn the lingo.
NMSC. The National Merit Scholarship Corporation, a private non-profit entity that runs the National Merit Scholarship competition.
College Board. Administers the PSAT/NMSQT. Don’t confuse College Board with NMSC. They are separate entities.
PSAT/NMSQT. The Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Those in the know just call it the PSAT.
Commended Students. Students who score above the national cutoff score for Commended status, but below the state score needed to advance to Semifinalist.
National Merit Semifinalists. 16,000 students who meet the cutoff scores needed in their states to advance in the competition. In other words, the top scoring students in each state..
Permanent Semifinalists. Approximately 1000 Semifinalists who do not progress to Finalist.
National Merit Finalists. 15,000 students who advance from Semifinalist in their senior year.
National Merit Scholar. Any Finalist who receives an official Merit Scholarship award from the NMSC, a corporate sponsor, or a college sponsor.
Merit Scholarship award. One of the three types of official Merit scholarships awarded as part of the National Merit Scholarship competition. The three types are the National Merit $2500 scholarship awarded from the NMSC, corporate-sponsored awards, and college-sponsored awards. These awards should not be confused with the additional scholarship packages offered to National Merit Finalists by many colleges. When a large package is offered by a college or university, it usually consists of a small official Merit Scholarship award, for example $2500 over 4 years, as well as additional scholarship funds available to Finalists.
The recent announcement of the 2015 Truman Scholars reveals why the prestigious awards to rising college seniors are the most fairly distributed of all the major scholarships. Of the 58 winners in 2015, 26 are from public institutions; 19 are from private research universities; 11 are from private liberal arts colleges; and two are students at a service academy.
Eight schools had two winners each: Brown, Middlebury, Montana State, the Naval Academy, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Yale. Montana State has become a notable producer of scholarship winners, especially Goldwater awards for outstanding undergrads in the STEM disciplines.
According to the Truman Foundation, each new scholar “receives up to $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Recipients must be U.S. citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills, be academically excellent, and be committed to careers in government or the non-profit sector.”
Winners from the public universities we review are listed below:
Frank Smith Arizona State University
Frank is a junior studying Public Service and Public Policy with a concentration in Urban and Metropolitan Studies. He was elected the youngest student body president at ASU, the largest public higher education institution in the nation which educates more than 82,000 students, with an unusual two terms. Overcoming adversity as a product of the foster care system, he has found a passion for improving outcomes of foster youth. Frank played an iatrical role in the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1208-Foster Care Tuition Waiver, and is currently working to expand it to allow more students to reap its benefits.
John Grant Addison University of Arkansas
Grant is currently majoring in History and Political Science with minors in Theatre and Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He intends to pursue graduate degree programs in Law and Public Policy. Grant is involved in campus and community service projects as a director on the Student Alumni Board at the University of Arkansas, along with being a member of the campus College Republicans, Distinguished Lecturers Committee, and Razorback Marching Band. His interest in education policy and reform have led him to working as an undergraduate researcher at UA’s Department of Education Reform, as well as being a policy research assistant for a member of the Education Committee within the Arkansas State Legislature.
Russell Bogue University of Virginia
Russell is majoring in the Politics Honors program at the University of Virginia, which gives him the opportunity to engage with seminal works of political theory and international relations in a small classroom setting with some of the best faculty in the department. He couples his study of politics with Chinese language studies, and he has spent the last two summers studying abroad or doing research in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Outside of the classroom, Russell serves as a co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of his university’s first undergraduate journal of American politics and political theory, and he also served as an Opinion Editor for The Cavalier Daily and as a student lecturer in constitutional law. He currently works for the Honor Committee, plays for the university squash team, conducts research in public choice, and helps to lead a Bible study through Reformed University Fellowship. He plans on a career in government and academia working on political reform in China.
Daniel Hubbard Florida State University
Daniel is pursuing a double major in Psychology and Sociology, with an interest in advocating for veteran and active duty military personnel through research. As a former United States Army medic, Daniel has worked with these populations in several settings including Fort Drum, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, and Afghanistan. Daniel is an active member of the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program working with a research lab studying suicide and he also participates in the Florida State University Community Ambassador Program. He is completing an Honors thesis that will examine factors specific to military suicide and is volunteering for a nonprofit law firm that assists underserved populations including veterans with legal needs. Daniel hopes to contribute to the collective effort of ameliorating the recent and drastic increase in military suicide. After graduating from Florida State University, he will pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology with a program that aligns well with his interest in military mental health issues.
Phoenix Rice-Johnson University of Wisconsin-Madison
A student activist originally from Hawaii, Phoenix is an honors student pursuing majors in Political Science and International Studies with a Minor in South Asian Studies. Phoenix serves as the Vice-Chair of the College Democrats of Wisconsin, the Public Defender of her student government, and the Democratic Leadership Institute Coordinator for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Growing up in Hawaii, Phoenix became passionate about ways to involve historically marginalized communities in the electoral process through civic education programs and more inclusive electoral policy. Phoenix intends to pursue a joint degree and to eventually work as an advocate for a more equitable and inclusive electoral system.
Cristian Nuno University of Illinois-Chicago
Cristian is a third-year undergraduate student. He is a B.A. dual-degree candidate for both Economics and Urban & Public Affairs. Academically, Cristian is working his way towards a master degree in Public Policy, with a focus on public-private partnerships, municipal finance and urban policy. Professionally, he is striving for a career that would allow him to increase the well-being of many citizens, cities, and regions through various policy and community initiatives.
Jeffrey Ding University of Iowa
Born in Shanghai and raised in Iowa City, Jeffrey is dedicated to building sustainable relationships among people from different places and between humans and the environment. A junior currently serving as the Vice-President of the University of Iowa Student Government, he majors in political science, economics, and Chinese. Jeffrey promotes educational exchanges between the U.S. and China through his role as a campus ambassador for the 100K Strong Foundation, and is the campus Boren Scholarship nominee for a yearlong study abroad program at Peking University. Named an Udall Scholarship honorable mention for his commitment to environmental issues, he established an annual $10,000 student-managed Green Initiatives Fund and continues to advocate for a citywide apartment recycling mandate. After past experience as an intern at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, he will participate in the United States Foreign Service Internship Program in the summer of 2015.
Ashlie Koehn University of Kansas
Ashlie is triple majoring in Economics, International Studies, and Environmental Studies while serving as a Staff Sergeant in the Kansas Air National Guard. Currently studying Russian and economics in the Kyrgyz Republic, her goal is to gain international experience and a strong economic background to advance the global effort against climate change. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Master of Science in Environmental Economics. Alongside work and studies, Ashlie is a runner and mandolin player.
Amanda Allen University of Louisville
Amanda is a Political science and Communication major. She serves as the Executive Director of the Engage Lead Serve Board, which oversees many student service initiatives and leadership programs at University of Louisville. As Executive Director, Amanda works with campus and community partners to not only assist the community, but to challenge students to be conscientious and active citizens through service leadership. Amanda also volunteers as a mentor at Shawnee High School. Upon completion of her Bachelor’s degree, Amanda plans to pursue a joint Master’s in Education and a Juris Doctorate to enhance equity in public education in the United States.
Michael Beyer Louisiana State University
Michael is pursuing an undergraduate degree in Political Science, as well as a Louisiana Service and Leadership Scholar, which aims to prepare LSU Honors College students for public service, social justice and leadership roles in Louisiana. He has worked as a Research and Communications Assistant at Louisiana Progress. He has also served as the Research and Policy Co-Coordinator for Equality Louisiana, where he researched initiatives and legislation related to LGBT issues. In 2014 and 2015, he helped co-organize the Louisiana Queer Conference, and this past summer he interned in the Public Policy Department with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) in Washington, D.C. He plans to pursue a career that focuses on increasing health care access for LGBT people.
Jamie Aron Mississippi State University
Jamie is majoring in Political Science and Mathematics and she is a Presidential Endowed Scholar and a member of the Shackouls Honors College. Jamie is the founder and director of WE Lead (Women Empowered Leadership Conference) and serves as the Undergraduate Representative on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. Jamie was one of three US women chosen to intern at the Andi Leadership Institute in D.C. last summer where she discussed conflict resolution and peace negotiations. She is also active in the Student Association, serving as Director of Community and Governmental Relations. Her post graduate goals include receiving a masters and doctorate in International Relations in order to work for international governing bodies, such as the United Nations.
Emily Waggoner University of Missouri
Emily is a Political Science major pursuing minors in Women’s & Gender Studies and Leadership & Public Service. A political leader on campus and off, Emily served two years as President of the Mizzou College Democrats, worked in both the Missouri State House and Senate and served as the Deputy Director of Targeting for the Missouri Democratic Party during the 2014 campaign cycle. Emily’s passion for politics stems from her deep-seated desire to improve access to quality health services for all residents in her home state, particularly those struggling with mental illness. After graduating, Emily intends to pursue a graduate degree in health policy to position herself to effect change in the Missouri public health system.
Alexander Paterson Montana State University-Bozeman
Alexander is a junior in his university’s Honors College majoring in Economics with a minor in Mathematics. Alexander is actively involved in Montana’s LGBTQ advocacy community serving as President of Montana State University’s Queer Straight Alliance and as a canvassing volunteer for Forward Montana. On campus he is an Opinion Writer for the Exponent student newspaper, Treasurer of Engineers Without Borders, Treasurer of the International Business Club, and a member of the LGBTQA Advisory Board. In his free time, you can find him dancing, eating bagels, or reading. Alexander intends on pursuing a career in public policy focusing on LGBT human rights.
Ann Himes University of Nebraska
Ann is a proud Nebraskan, studying Russian, Global Studies, and History with minors in Spanish, English, Political Science, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs. She has been inspired by the many strong women in her life to pursue a career in public service with special attention to women’s issues domestically and globally. Ann intends to pursue a law degree, ultimately using law for public advocacy to further progressive social causes, especially those pertaining to women and children. On campus, she has worked to combat prejudice and intolerance through the formation of a new student organization dedicated to diversity appreciation and cultural literacy. In the community, Ann has interned in the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature and at a local non-profit dedicated to social justice. In her free time, Ann enjoys rock climbing, distance running, and practicing yoga.
Daniel Waqar University of Nevada-Las Vegas
Daniel is a junior in his university’s Honors College majoring in History and with minors in Global Entrepreneurship and Public Policy in the Brookings Institute’s Mountain West studies program. Daniel advocates for students’ rights before the Nevada System of Higher Education Board of Regents and the Nevada Legislature as the Director of Nevada Legislative Affairs and Public Relations, and pioneered the creation of the inaugural 2015 Joint Vision of UNLV Student Government for 23,000 students. He is currently studying abroad in Haifa, Israel, at the University of Haifa, with dual emphases in Peace and Conflict Studies and Arabic Culture and Civilization. While in Haifa, he leads volunteer projects as a Presidential Merit Ambassador at Yad Ezer LaHaver, a day center for the elderly and Holocaust survivors. Daniel will be working with leading Israeli political scientists in Haifa to research Israeli land settlements in post-1967 borders within the context of renewed “final status” negotiations.
Jacob Levin CUNY Brooklyn College
Jake is a Macaulay Honors College student studying political science and philosophy. He is passionate about political participation, volunteerism, and the creation of safe and nurturing spaces for students, artists, and youth. To empower CUNY students and provide a platform for the spreading and sharing of ideas, Jake founded TEDxCUNY, New York City’s first public university TEDx conference. He has worked for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Veterans Affairs, and Jazz at Lincoln Center, and serves on Lincoln Center’s Student Advisory Council. A camp counselor for the last 5 years, he also cares deeply about youth leadership and development. Jake hopes to pursue a law degree to advocate for veterans and other underrepresented groups.
David Danesh Ohio State University
David is majoring in Microbiology with a minor in Global Public Health. Passionate about solving the big issues in dental public health in Ohio and the US, he intends to attend dental school and then pursue his MPH and pediatric dentistry residency training. He hopes to combine his experience serving in national leadership at the American Student Dental Association and conducting public health research to improve oral health policy to address barriers in access to oral health care. His clinical and public health training will allow David to serve as a public health dentist in underserved areas in Ohio through the National Health Service Corps, then transition to serve as the State Dental Director at the Ohio Department of Health.
Cara Thuringer Montana State University – Bozeman
Cara is facinated by the implications of climate change on a global scale. Ever since an elementary school class project on the endangered black-footed ferret, Cara has maintained an interest in conservation and the environment. Through her research in Bolivia, Morocco, South Africa, and Vietnam, her interests have evolved into investigating how resource scarcities contribute to violent conflict and how climate change will exacerbate these situations. Using photography as a medium for communication, she documents environmental conflicts, both domestically and internationally. In the future, Cara hopes to combine her passion for the environment with photography to promote better resource management globally and reduce violent conflict. Cara’s role models include: Senator Paul Wellstone, Senator Tom Udall, and Bryan Schutmaat. In her free time, Cara is usually backpacking, running, knitting, or building bicycles.
Kathleen Wilson University of Georgia
Kathleen studies economics, international affairs, and Arabic. Through NGO and government internships, including work with the U.S. Department of State and the Feminist Majority Foundation, Kathleen has developed a passion for gender equity and women’s empowerment. On campus, she founded the Women’s Outreach and Resource Coalition and has advocated for the establishment of women’s center at her university. Kathleen hopes to obtain a joint Master’s in Middle Eastern Studies and Master’s in Public Policy, with a concentration in international development. These degrees will help her pursue a career at the Department of State, where she will formulate policies to extend educational and economic opportunities to women in the Middle East and North Africa.
Erin Dugan University of Delaware
Erin is majoring in public policy with minors in economics and public health. Her primary focus is on the social determinants of health, specifically the impacts of socioeconomic status and race on health outcomes. She has served as an intern in Governor Jack Markell’s Office of Federal Affairs in Washington, D.C.; The Wellness Plan Medical Centers in Detroit, Michigan; and Alliance for a Better Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. On campus, she is the Operations Coordinator for University of Delaware Alternative Breaks, a teaching assistant, Writing Fellow, and self-proclaimed “witty” blogger. She hopes to work on health policy at the federal level after obtaining her MPH and MPP.
Lia Cattaneo University of Virginia
A Civil & Environmental Engineering and Environmental Sciences double major, Lia has worked to build a community around sustainability at the University of Virginia (UVA). She loves creating spaces in which students can accomplish ambitious goals, meet their best friends, and grow into leaders empowered to create change. She is also involved in a number of research projects, serves on the Board of Directors of UVA’s student volunteer center, is the president of the Club Figure Skating Team, and is active in the Jewish community. Lia’s goal is to use science and policy to take action on climate change. After graduation, she hopes to work in the climate and energy policy field.
Elizabeth Doyle University of Wisconsin-Madison
Elizabeth has had a passion for justice and equity from a young age. Dreams of making an impact on the lives of others and advocating for those without a voice came to fruition through her involvement in community organizing. The experience she gained through volunteering to further health, education, and political campaigns equipped her with the skills to be that advocate. Elizabeth lives in Verona, Wisconsin, with her partner, Thomas, and daughter, Zoe, where she serves as City Council President. She was elected to this position unanimously by her colleagues halfway through her first term as Alderperson making her the first woman in leadership in Verona’s history.
Each year, we provide an update of Goldwater scholarships won by public university students, and public universities did extraordinarily well in 2015, winning 152 out of 260 scholarships awarded this year.
We provide this update because Goldwater scholars are all still undergraduates, and their selection is an indication of the undergraduate research opportunities at their universities.
In 2014, only three public universities had four Goldwater Scholars, the maximum number any school can have in a year. But in 2015, six public universities had the maximum: Alabama, Clemson, Maryland, Massachusetts Amherst, Minnesota, and Rutgers. An additional ten public universities had three scholars: Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, University at Buffalo, UT Dallas, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, and Montana State.
Two of the regional universities we follow each had two Goldwater Scholars in 2015: UW Eau Claire and Western Kentucky. Since 2008, Western Kentucky students have won 20 Goldwater scholarships.
“The Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide. One hundred seventy-two of the Scholars are men, 111 are women, and virtually all intend to obtain a Ph.D. as their degree objective. Twenty-two Scholars are mathematics majors, 191 are science and related majors, 63 are majoring in engineering, and 7 are computer science majors. Many of the Scholars have dual majors in a variety of mathematics, science, engineering, and computer disciplines.
“The one and two year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.
“Goldwater Scholars have very impressive academic qualifications that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs. Recent Goldwater Scholars have been awarded 80 Rhodes Scholarships, 117 Marshall Awards, 112 Churchill Scholarships, and numerous other distinguished fellowships such as the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships.”
Keeping up with the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program grants is an annual project we undertake because the grant stipend, valued currently at $32,000 a year for three years of graduate work plus a separate $12,000 a year paid directly to the university for costs, are so generous that prospective undergrads might want to know graduates of their college of choice perform in the NSF GRFP competition.
The grants go to students with very high college gpa’s (around 3.70 and above) along with outstanding GRE test scores. Grantees must submit proposals to do research in one of the STEM disciplines or social sciences. Most grants are for STEM students.
This year we will list the top 30 universities, both public and private, whose students were named as NSF GRFP fellows in 2015. It is true that many public universities have much larger overall undergraduate enrollments, so one might expect that those schools would have the most NSF fellows; on the other hand, the private elites are far more selective, and one would think that a far higher percentage of their undergraduates should be competitive for the awards. We write primarily for prospective honors students and their parents, so our perspective is that the best students in leading public universities can compete with those coming from private elites, and the NSF awards are one indication that this is the case.
One indication of a rough parity is that the top two universities are far and away the best this year–MIT and UC Berkeley–one private, the other public. Both are perennial leaders in this category.
Below are the leading universities for NSF fellowships in 2015. All the schools had at least 15 NSF fellows.