Office helps students apply for distinguished scholarships

During the past two years 79 Carolina students joined the ranks of the nation's most distinguished scholars, winning prestigious awards such as the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarship, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship and the Fulbright Grant.

And faculty members helped get them there.

A 1997 move that channeled all the information about scholarships for exceptional Carolina students through one office -- the Office for Distinguished Scholarships -- has certainly helped make finding and applying for scholarships easier.

But the real credit for helping students strive for and achieve national and international recognition goes to the faculty mentors who are "the real unsung heroes," according to Anne Repp, the office's director.

For each of the 20 or more scholarships available, there is a committee of three to eight faculty members who read through the applications, interview the applicants and recommend students for the next level of competition.

Faculty then switch roles from evaluators to mentors as they help steer students through the process, making sure their application is persuasive, their personal essays are flawless and their interviews are convincing.

Faculty conduct mock interviews to quiz students about their area of scholarship. For example, the Truman Scholarships require students to write and defend a policy statement addressing an issue they think needs improving.

Repp's office then finds faculty members who are practitioners, researchers or scholars in students' fields to challenge them, critique their presentation and body language, and help edit their essays. Many faculty members also pen the critically important recommendation letters that must be submitted along with scholarship applications.

Even the losers are winners

While the faculty role may be invisible to most, the students whom professors inspire to do their absolute best come out winners even if they don't take home the prize.

"Just going through the process and getting intense, one-on-one care and grooming gives students an edge even when applying for a job," Repp said. "They may not win the scholarship, but they have sharpened their essay-writing and interviewing skills, they have pinpointed their exact area of interest, they have worked side-by-side with faculty in their field -- there are always other options we can find for these talented and committed students."

And finding other options for deserving students is Repp's passion.

"When students lose, and mostly they do lose, Anne Repp is the first to know," said Rachel Willis, associate professor of American studies and frequent recommendation writer for students pursuing distinguished scholarships. "She handles it with such compassion and always helps the students figure another way to reach the dreams they've articulated so well.

Faculty involvement can be rewarding

On a campus as large as Carolina, finding students who are the cream of the crop and nominating them for distinguished scholarship opportunities is important in helping them achieve their highest potential.

Faculty members who serve on selection committees, are part of mock interview panels, write recommendation letters or mentor individual students can find the experience mutually rewarding.

For the Marshall Awards, every faculty member on the University's selection committee is a former Marshall Scholar. In the Department of Classics, William Race, Kenneth Sams, Cecil Wooten, Peter Smith and Kenneth Reckford all are faculty members involved on committees selecting 1999-2000 distinguished scholars.

Willis, whom Repp calls "a true champion of students," not only serves on committees but writes some 80-90 recommendation letters each year for students and for graduates who continue to value her recommendations as they pursue advanced degrees or new career opportunities.

Information available

While most of this year's scholarship deadlines have passed, many other opportunities still are open. A complete list, along with detailed information, is contained in the Distinguished Scholarships handbook that can be picked up in room 02F South Building or requested by calling 2-6074.

Repp, who has directed the Office for Distinguished Scholarships since its inception in 1997, is relocating to California. According to Provost Richard "Dick" Richardson, a search will be conducted to find her replacement.

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