A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rhodes Scholar, record-tying Fulbrights highlight University of Kentucky’s 2019 academic success

By Whitney Hale
University of Kentucky

From University of Kentucky’s 10th overall and first female Rhodes Scholar, to the second Pickering Fellow in two years, to a school record-tying class of Fulbright recipients, the world’s most prestigious scholarship, fellowship and internship organizations took note this year of the Wildcats’ academic talent.

Preparing these exceptional UK students and recent alumni to compete for — and receive — such honors is the mission of the UK Office of Nationally Competitive Awards. Under the guidance and leadership of Pat Whitlow, the office identifies and works with student scholars on the application process for honors awarded by regional, national and international sources.

UK’s Rhopdes Scholar Hadeel Abdallah speaks at a board of trustees meeting. (Photo by Mark Cornelison/UK)

This year UK students and alumni were recognized with the following major awards:

• Rhodes Scholarship;
• Astronaut Scholarship;
• Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship; 
• two English-Speaking Union Scholarships;
• two DAAD Research Internships in Science and Engineering;
• three Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships;
• four Fulbright Research Grants and four Fulbright English Teaching Assistantships;
• National Security Education Program David L. Boren Fellowship;
• Godolphin Flying Start scholarship; 
• seven National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowships;
• two Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program placements; and
• AMGEN Scholar selection.

In addition, nine more Wildcats were selected for Teach for America and a number were awarded summer research opportunities through various NSF, NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) programs.
“This has been an extraordinary year. UK students and alumni have been successful applicants across a wide range of competitive opportunities,” Whitlow said. “I hope this will influence an increasing number of UK students to consider competitive awards as part of their educational and career goals. The process of preparing an application helps them focus on their written and oral communication skills and encourages students to think carefully about what they want to accomplish after they graduate.”

A primary responsibility of the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards is to administer a campus nomination process for 13 major awards that require institutional endorsement. For these specific opportunities, including such honors as the Rhodes and Truman Scholarships, students must apply first to a campus review committee. The UK committee then selects the student who will represent the university. Nominees receive feedback on their application and are officially nominated by the institution.
But the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards doesn’t just work with those 13 awards, the office recruits and prepares UK students with strong academic and extracurricular records to successfully pursue a wide range of nationally and/or internationally competitive scholarships, fellowships and internships that match their area of study or research, which are funded by nonprofit groups, government agencies and companies.

Part of the Chellgren Center for Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Student and Academic Life at UK, the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards can help students determine if they are eligible for a specific award, assist them in crafting personal essays, offer practice interviews, and shepherd them through the application and/or nomination process. These efforts help the office reach its goal to increase the number of UK students and alumni who apply for, and receive, these national and international awards each year.

And this aid doesn’t go unnoticed by the students, including UK’s Rhodes Scholar Hadeel Abdallah who applied for her national and international honors after encouragement from Whitlow and the Chellgren Center.

“When Dr. Whitlow and Dr. Phil Kraemer were talking to our (Chellgren) class, they were telling us that each and every single one of you has the ability to do this and don’t let your past or lack of high school accolades or the fact that you might not have gotten into other programs deter you from doing this. I think Dr. Kraemer and Dr. Whitlow really helped me with realizing that.”

In addition, Abdallah appreciated the team of faculty and mentors Whitlow helped assemble to assist her as she prepared for the Rhodes, and her Truman Scholarship the year prior. “Everybody has had a hand in helping me get to this point and I’m incredibly honored and humbled by that. It brings me a lot of joy to know that I come from a community like this.”

The process of applying for a nationally or internationally competitive scholarship is a learning experience. It challenges the student to think through career plans, to set ambitious long-term goals and to imagine how they can use their talents to shape the world. Most successful candidates for these highly competitive awards begin considering opportunities as early as their freshman year, building extracurricular and leadership background, as well as participating in community and public service while maintaining a high grade-point average.

Whitlow encourages students to take advantage of the summer months in preparing to apply for these opportunities.

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