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Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising Sets Up Students for Success

Applicants for nationally competitive awards gain valuable communication skills and a strong sense of purpose when guided by this dedicated team.

Jolynn Parker speaking at a podium
Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising director Jolynn Parker says faculty can recommend their most outstanding students to the center. For example, Bethany Murphy ’20—the third Marshall Scholar in Syracuse University history—was recommended by her engineering advisor.

Syracuse University’s Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) connects students, alumni and faculty with nationally competitive, merit-based fellowship and scholarship opportunities. These awards recognize students as leaders in their communities and fund such opportunities as international research, graduate study and professional placements; immersive foreign language learning experiences abroad; summer development programs; and graduate and undergraduate tuition support.

Over the past five years, CFSA has helped outstanding Syracuse University students successfully apply for prestigious awards. Dina Eldawy ’19 and Bethany Murphy ’20 were the second and third Marshall Scholars selected in school history. CFSA also worked with the University’s first-ever Schwarzman Scholar, Kyle Rosenblum ’20; first-ever Mitchell Scholar, Cameron MacPherson ’17, G’18; and first and second Luce Scholars, Laura Marsolek ’13, G’17 and Ariel Chu G’20. This semester, 29 students who completed CFSA’s Fulbright application process were selected as semifinalists, the most ever in Syracuse University history. And in April, Justine Hastings ’21 and Linzy Dineen ’21 were interviewed as finalists for the Truman Scholarship.

But even students who don't ultimately receive the awards they apply for benefit tremendously from the guidance CFSA has to offer. “There are a lot of advantages to putting an application together,” says CFSA director Jolynn Parker. The application process itself develops communication and interpersonal skills, and many students discover insight into their own goals, values, and passions as they contemplate significant new opportunities.

Students often arrive at CFSA after being referred by faculty members, who can submit recommendations for outstanding students. Criteria for student applicants include a strong GPA within a challenging curriculum, a demonstrated commitment to civic leadership and engagement, an interest in research or creative work, and a passion to enact change at a national or global level.

The first meeting with the center is often a conversation about the student’s accomplishments and goals. Assessing a student’s fit for a particular scholarship is not necessarily a straightforward process, Parker says. “Students need to articulate more than what they will gain from a scholarship, but why they want it, how it fits within their trajectory, and how they can contribute to the mission of that scholarship foundation.” In her work with foundations, Parker has developed an understanding of their criteria and what they're looking for in candidates.

CFSA advisors support applicants at every stage of the process, from planning to interviews. Assistant Director Melissa Welshans often reviews draft submissions for students and alumni. She says one of the most effective ways CFSA supports students is by giving them a space to think very concretely about their goals. Through the process of writing and revising their personal statements, applicants identify the passions, priorities and personal values they will channel into their academic experiences and career choices. For Welshans, it’s one of the highlights of her job. “It's really wonderful when you can help a student figure out how they want to approach their future, because that also gives them a lot of freedom, clarity, direction, drive and purpose—all things that are really necessary for making a college experience meaningful, useful and valuable,” she says.

It’s really wonderful when you can help a student figure out how they want to approach their future, because that also gives them a lot of freedom, clarity, direction, drive and purpose—all things that are really necessary for making a college experience meaningful, useful and valuable.

—Melissa Welshans

As an undergraduate, Samantha Usman ’16 was a University Scholar and participated in the Renée Crown Honors Program, double majoring in physics and mathematics. She worked with CFSA when she applied for numerous scholarships and fellowships, and she won the Astronaut Scholarship in 2015.

Samantha Usman shakes hands with Chancellor Kent Syverud at graduation
Samantha Usman ’16 found that every fellowship had a different set of nuances, and working with the CFSA helped make her aware of these important details. Usman was a Goldwater Honorable Mention and a Marshall Scholarship finalist, and in 2015 she won the Astronaut Scholarship.

Usman says working with the CFSA helped her improve her communications skills. “It helped me clarify not just my topic, but also the way I talk about my application or my fellowship.” In 2016, when she was a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship—an award that funds graduate study in the United Kingdom—Usman was invited to interview at the British Consulate in New York City. To help her prepare, the center assembled a panel of professors from various departments, as well as administrators and community members, to conduct a series of mock interviews. “That was really different from anything I’d ever done before,” Usman says. “It helped me learn what that type of interview process is supposed to feel like.”

Though she ultimately wasn’t selected for the scholarship, Usman did end up studying in the U.K.—and receiving funding for her graduate work—partly as a result of being a finalist for the Marshall award. She completed her master’s degree at Cardiff University, and today she’s an astronomy and astrophysics Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago. Usman applied to NASA’s astronaut candidate program after working as an intern at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center last summer. If she gets to the next stage of the application process, her experience with CFSA will be valuable. “I know that they do panel interviews, so I'm going to be more prepared than I would have been otherwise,” she says.

Welshans feels fortunate to work with passionate and driven students who want to make big changes. “So many Syracuse University students are ready to find positive ways to impact the world,” she says. “We just help them find opportunities that will enable them to do that.”

Brandon Dyer

This story was first published on May 11, 2020 and last updated on .


Also of Interest

  • Scholarships

    To lower the cost of attendance, Syracuse University offers merit-based scholarships and provides steps to apply for scholarships awarded by outside sources.

  • Renée Crown University Honors Program

    Students who seek academic challenge and are prepared to invest the extra effort required to meet that challenge will flourish in this demanding and rewarding program.