Applying for prestigious fellowships such as the Fulbright or the Harry S. Truman Scholarship is a daunting task. In order to make the process more accessible to students, John Brown University is offering a new course next semester to help students prepare for the application.
Brad Gambill, associate professor of English, will teach the class, which is titled “What’s Your Story?: Preparing for Prestigious Fellowship Competitions.” Although the one hour class is listed as a colloquium offered by the Honors Scholars Program, Gambill said all students are welcome to enroll.
In the course description, Gambill explained the reason for offering the class. The application process for the fellowships causes students to ask questions such as “Who exactly am I?” and “How have I used my time at JBU?”
“The best applicants, in fact, use the application process as a vehicle to thoughtfully reflect on and arrive at a better understanding of these questions,” according to the course description.
During the semester, students will select a major fellowship for which to complete an actual application. University students and graduates who applied will share their experiences with the class. Gambill will also meet with the students one-on-one to help them in the process.
Gambill said many universities offer a similar course. As the coordinator of prestigious fellowships at John Brown University, he said his goal in having the class is to make the application process less intimidating.
“Students come into my office saying they’re not good enough or smart enough,” Gambill said. “They are not sure they can compete with the best and the brightest out there. Part of this class is to demonstrate to the students that they are good candidates.”
Gambill also wants to help students look at their time in the University and project that forward to better understand their call and mission. He said he looked forward to interacting with the students on an individual level and helping them reflect and set goals.
“I want to help students better understand who they are and how they fit in the kingdom of God,” Gambill said. “I place a lot of importance on the meta-cognitive. Looking at why we do what we do is an important part of our faith.”
Freshman Luke Macfarlan plans to apply to the Goldwater Scholarship further down the line, and intends to take the class next semester to start thinking ahead. He said there were three main benefits he saw in the course:
1. Mentoring through the long process
2. Earning credit for what he already planned to do
3. Time set aside to work on the application
Macfarlan met with Gambill last semester for advice on what to do during the summers to better position himself for the application.
“Dr. Gambill has tons of experience with the prestigious fellowships,” Macfarlan said. “He has worked with previous students in the process, and he has a feeling for what catches the eye of the people who look at the applications.”
Macfarlan said the class could teach students general life skills, such as how to structure a good application.
“People can tend to just assume students know how to write a resume,” Macfarlan said. “To receive actual training in that is highly valuable.”
Freshman Brad Johnson is another student who plans to take the class. His goal is to apply to the Rhodes Scholarship for graduate school after he graduates.
Johnson said the applications are more difficult than they appear.
“It sounds easy to find your calling and explain your purpose, but it’s not that simple,” he said. “Going through the questions in the application develops your sense of your spiritual self. It helps you find out who you are.”
Johnson said it is good for students to start the process of applying early on so they can discover their mission and shape their lives around that in anticipation for the application. He added that students should take the class because the process of honing who they are and what they do is valuable for its own sake.
“Dr. Gambill is good at helping students identify who they are and then organizing that in a way that can help them apply competitively,” Johnson said.
Gambill said he believed in the importance of Christians pursuing opportunities such as prestigious fellowships.
“We should try to be in positions where decisions are made and where we can have influence,” Gambill said. “Prestigious fellowships typically lead to such positions.”