W&L Celebrates Another Year of Fellowship Success Another record-setting year for nationally competitive fellowships at W&L can be attributed to forward-thinking educators, hard-working students and an encouraging fellowships director.
“With back-to-back record-breaking years for fellowships, it is clear that our students are being inspired by their peers’ success, and I fully expect our application numbers to continue to grow in response.”
~ Matthew Loar, W&L Director of Fellowships
Washington and Lee University has enjoyed another record-setting year for nationally competitive fellowship awards for the 2021-2022 academic year, and student recipients attribute their success to the intensive guidance and support offered by university staff and faculty.
This year’s awards will provide students with substantial funding and the chance to pursue big goals such as conducting mathematics research in Hungary, analyzing paintings and manuscripts in Italy, teaching English in Costa Rica, and studying the migration patterns of bison in Yellowstone National Park.
“Assembling a compelling fellowship application requires a lot of time, effort and emotional energy, and success is far from guaranteed,” said Matthew Loar ’07, W&L’s director of fellowships. “What therefore impresses me most about our students is not just that they are smart, accomplished and ambitious, but also that they are willing to take a risk and put in the work necessary to make themselves competitive for these fellowships. With back-to-back record-breaking years for fellowships, it is clear that our students are being inspired by their peers’ success, and I fully expect our application numbers to continue to grow in response.”
Among the prestigious awards offered in 2021-22 are a record 15 Fulbright grants and 10 Gilman Scholarships, up from the previous records of nine and seven, respectively, in 2020-21. Washington and Lee University has made the list of top Fulbright U.S. student-producing institutions for four years running after having made the list only three times in the 15 years prior.
Other awards this year include one Beinecke Scholarship, six Critical Language Scholarships, one Goldwater Scholarship, one Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship, three U.S. Teaching Assistantships to Austria, two Boren Scholarships, one National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and one Udall Scholarship. Additional awards may have been received by students who did not seek assistance through official channels at W&L.
W&L also this year had three finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship, two finalists for the Marshall Scholarship (including one student who was named an alternate), and two finalists for the Truman Scholarship. Of the more than 130 fellowship applications submitted by W&L students this year, 60% resulted in the student advancing to the next round of the competition, meaning they either received the grant, were placed on an alternate list, or were named a semifinalist or finalist.
“In other words,” Loar said, “students aren’t just submitting more applications, they are submitting more high-quality applications.”
The recipe for this success certainly includes intelligence and talent, but it is just as important for students to learn about the possibilities well in advance and begin to prepare for them by seeking support. It is also necessary to invest significant time and energy into preparing an application that makes the strongest possible case for the candidate.
At W&L, faculty and staff across campus work to ensure that students are aware of fellowship opportunities, and students often hear about those opportunities long before they begin to prepare an application. Ana Estrada Hamm ’22, who received both a Boren and a Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) in 2020-21 and a CLS in 2021-22, first heard about those awards as a first-year student, when she had a conversation with her Arabic professor, Anthony Edwards, about a desire to someday work for the U.S. government.
Tanajia Moye-Green ’23, who received the Gilman Scholarship in 2020 and a CLS to study Swahili in 2021, plus a Beinecke Scholarship and Public Policy and International Affairs Junior Summer Institute grant this year, said the first step for her was to think deeply about her purpose in applying for any prize. She had long conversations about that with her faculty advisor, sociology professor Jon Eastwood, and one of her professors in the Shepherd Program, Howard Pickett.
Troy Larsen ’22, recipient of a Goldwater Scholarship in 2020-21 and a Fulbright to Hungary this year, received helpful counsel from a W&L math professor: “I got advice from a mentor who said ‘If you could receive the opportunity without having to apply for it, would you take it? If the answer is yes, you should throw your hat in the ring.” During his sophomore year, Larsen reached out to Loar “on a whim” to learn about his options. He now considers that one of the smartest moves he’s ever made.
As soon as students connect with Loar, they have access to a deep well of resources. Loar, a 2007 graduate of W&L, has been the university’s director of fellowships since 2019. As a 2006 Beinecke Scholar, a recipient of a 2009 American Graduate Fellowship and a reader for the Boren, Gilman and CLS, he is well-versed in the fellowship applications process.
Prior to Loar’s arrival, the fellowship advising process was decentralized, with different faculty and staff liaisons for many fellowships. Being the sole advisor for fellowships allows Loar to get to know each student’s story, which strengthens their applications.
If a student is seriously interested in pursuing an opportunity, Loar will not rest until he’s done everything within his power to help. Each academic year, he holds more than 750 meetings with more than 200 individual students. Larsen, for example, figures he met with Loar nearly 40 times over the course of his college career.
“I tell the students I will work with them as many times as they can tolerate on as many drafts of an application that they might possibly want,” Loar said. “Some do a couple rounds of revisions; some do dozens.”
Moye-Green recalls that Loar pushed her to narrow the focus of her application essay and “capture all of the complexities and nuances.”
“I went from saying simply ‘I am resilient’ to saying something like ‘I am a Black low-income, first-generation student at W&L’ and specifically detailing how that has affected me in my education here,” she said.
Estrada Hamm said she wrote more drafts than she can count, in part because she did not receive the Boren the first time she applied. She said Loar counseled her through being waitlisted, advising her to gain more experience and try again. She got a Virtual Student Federal Service internship with the U.S. Agency for International Development and used her experience working with religious and ethnic minorities on the Middle East desk to inform her next application.
“I wasn’t discouraged because Dr. Loar was like, ‘We just have to keep trying,’” she said.
Larsen, who was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship in 2021-22, said rejection can be “a hard pill to swallow,” but he considers it an important part of the application process. “I’ve been rejected for far more opportunities than I’ve received,” he said, “and you have to keep getting up and trying again because rejection is part of life. Dr. Loar was instrumental in allowing me to see that.”
Larsen has also realized that even his unsuccessful applications held value. “I really enjoyed reflecting on who I was. Writing those essays about the person I’ve become at W&L and what my experiences have set me up to do has made me appreciate my time on campus even more.”
His advice to current W&L students is to take advantage of the exceptional resources at W&L, especially the Office of Fellowships, and to understand that there is value in applying even if they aren’t sure what they want to do after graduation – and even if they ultimately get turned down.
“The only thing you have to lose is time,” he said. “There is something to be gained from going through the application process and discussing your future with someone else, even if you are unsure of your future. Going through these applications will help you figure it out.”
Follow this link to read more about individual fellowship recipients at W&L. Visit this page to learn more about how W&L students can apply for fellowships, and click here to set up an appointment with Matthew Loar, W&L director of fellowships.