Skip to main content
Skip to navigation

Nov. 5, 2009 Volume 31, No. 11

Students competitive in fellowships

Track record

Faculty can help identify potential award winners

Mizzou’s students have won so many competitive awards of late, they are a permanent fixture on the red carpet. The list is a who’s who among the world’s top sponsors: Truman, Fulbright, Boren, to name a few.

Much of the students’ success in earning these prestigious awards to study abroad, further their education or conduct research is attributed to the MU Fellowships Office.

“Our absolute numbers are not huge, but our percentages for competing nationally are quite impressive,” says Vicky Riback Wilson, service-learning and fellowships coordinator.
“Last year, 100 percent of our applicants for the Boren Fellowship to study abroad for a year were successful and nationally only 14 percent of students were successful. For the Fulbright last year, more than 36 percent of our students were offered an award compared to the national average of approximately 25 percent.” Three of four MU students accepted Fulbrights.

This year, MU was designated a Truman Foundation Honor Institution, one of two universities to receive this recognition. The award, given by the Harry S Truman Foundation, honors an institution’s long-standing tradition of encouraging students to pursue careers in public service and successfully aiding students in applying for and winning Truman Scholarships. Since 1980, MU has had 14 Truman Scholars.

“We have a good track record,” Wilson says. “Our challenge now is to increase the number of students who are aware of the opportunities and apply for them.”  

The office, which opened in 2005, uses workshops, fairs, class and group presentations, e-mails and direct student contact to increase awareness, and collaborates with faculty campuswide to identify students whose qualifications and goals match specific fellowship opportunities.

Faculty support is paramount to getting students to consider applying for the major awards. Even when she sends individualized e-mails to students, it is usually the extra encouragement from a faculty member that gets them to the Fellowships Office. When requested, her office helps faculty craft the best possible letters of recommendation to support the students.

“The most important role for faculty is making students aware of the opportunities and encouraging the students to come see us or get more information on these awards,” Wilson says. “We find that students, even our absolutely top students who have done dazzling things, are reluctant to put themselves forward unless a faculty member encourages them to do so.” We rely heavily on faculty to identify competitive students and encourage them to apply.

Wilson says because some of the awards are given as early as the sophomore year, she starts talking to students when they are freshmen, helping them figure out how to get the most out of their MU experience by getting involved in undergraduate research, service learning, clubs and organizations, study abroad and taking challenging courses. “Not everyone decides to apply for something, but we encourage those who want to get the most from their MU experience and better position themselves to be competitive to come to the office. If they wait until they are ready to apply to come to see us, they are at a real disadvantage.”

Faculty members need not worry about a particular fellowship, Wilson says. “When they see students in their classes who strike them as outstanding in some way, encourage those students to come to the Fellowships Office and we’ll take it from there.”

To learn more about the MU Fellowships Office, go to 204 Lowry Hall, or e-mail