The Wake Forest Scholars program, launched in 2003, coordinates efforts to encourage and assist students in post-graduate scholarship and fellowship competitions. As its director, Tom Phillips (’74, MA ’78) guides students through the painstaking process of completing applications, writing essays and securing references. He’s also there to offer alternatives and ease anxieties—knowing that post-graduation awards are just one path to success.
What sets the Wake Forest Scholars program apart from programs offered by other colleges and universities?
The Wake Forest Scholars program is personal. Students who participate get the attention of willing faculty and staff, and they appreciate that someone takes time to understand and help shape their goals. The program has enjoyed good success, including first-time recipients in major programs such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Junior Fellows. The program will improve—in communication to students, numbers involved in applications, rosters of successful candidates—as we involve more faculty to help identify underclass talent and to assist with application development. This is particularly true of students in the natural sciences.
What is most rewarding to you about working with these students?
The exciting part of working with our very top students—e.g. those with a realistic shot at a Truman Scholarship or the British scholarships (Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Gates and Churchill)—is being part of their growth as young adults when they address the broad question of why choose this or that particular course of study. For all such competitive post-graduate scholarship programs, students benefit from the thinking and writing that constitute a good application, regardless of the outcome. The hard part, always, is sharing news that the candidate was not chosen for the award. I remind these students what is invariably true: their achievements will see them successful at the “next big thing,” whether a graduate school admission or another scholarship program.
Which of the program’s achievements are most meaningful to you?
With the help of faculty to assist student thinking and writing, we have had good success in a range of programs such as the Rhodes scholarship, four in this decade, for two years of study at Oxford; the Goldwater scholarship, seven in this decade, for recognition in the natural sciences; and the US Student Fulbright scholarship, 38 in this decade, for research and teaching abroad for a year after college. I’m especially proud of our growth as a viable Fulbright producing institution. Since Wake Forest is so adept in language study and international travel for its highly selective student body, we should be among the strongest Fulbright award institutions. This fall we nominated 44 seniors and one graduated student, plus we assisted other alumni/ae, for 2010-11 Fulbright scholarships and assistantships. (Winners will be announced this spring.) Despite the economic downturn and consequent post-graduate scholarship application uptick, we should produce double-digit honorees this year.
How do you identify students—and alumni—for the program?
We glean from the registrar which students are achieving at the highest level. We then encourage these students to complete a self-evaluation of their intellectual passions, academic plans and career interests. This material forms the basis of conversations about majors, summer activities, research experiences and travel—discussions which might culminate in an application for a scholarship. This effort to identify and work with students must start well before the senior year. Recent alumni/ae should be aware of programs geared towards persons ages 21-35, such as the Luce Scholarship and German Chancellor Scholarship programs, information about which can be found at www.wfu.edu/scholars. We need to hear from more of them.
What inspires you in this work?
From the beginning, I’ve been inspired by the students. I’m determined to expand and improve the program through greater involvement with faculty and more mechanisms to identify and educate our best students and recent alumni.