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UC A&S nationally competitive award winners reflect on their experiences

Students point to support from UC as instrumental in their success

By Michelle Flanagan

Academic awards such as Fulbright, Goldwater and National Science Foundation fellowships offer students a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to extend their studies, advance their academic goals and experience the world in an all-new way.

Receiving a nationally competitive award is an honor for students, and grants them a stronger ability to chase their dreams. And in hindsight, most say that while the process of applying for the awards is time-consuming, it’s well worth it.

UC’s College of Arts and Sciences has had no shortage of such award winners in the last several years. UC’s Office of Nationally Competitive Awards supports students interested in applying for these external fellowships, and works to support them as early as possible in their college careers.

In order to help students develop into strong candidates, the office provides comprehensive advising and support for a set of core awards that require UC endorsement, as well as assistance for some priority awards that don’t require UC endorsement. Professors also provide critical support for students, and can point them toward the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards when they recognize that potential.

When applying, students must have a detailed plan of what they will do if they win, and a great deal of research goes into the application process.

A plan is one thing, but what was the experience of these students actually like? Here Katherine Paul, a graduate student in German Studies and recipient of a Fulbright award, reflects on her experience, and says, “it’s always worth applying, no matter the outcome.”

Fulbright recipient

Katherine Paul is a UC graduate student in the German Studies department who received a Fulbright in 2018. The Fulbright Program is a cultural exchange program which works to improve intercultural relations and cultural diplomacy.

When she applied to the Fulbright Program, Paul intended to perform a reception study of audience reactions to post-dramatic theater performances, as well as conduct archival research at the Bertolt-Brecht-Archiv in Berlin, Germany. All of this would happen over the course of an academic year, which she would spend in Berlin.

During the application process, she had lots of help.

“Several professors in my department were very helpful in reviewing and giving feedback on my initial drafts. Also, after receiving word that I’d gotten the award, they were helpful with tips about finding housing, et cetera, in Berlin,” Paul said.

UC German Studies graduate student and Fulbright recipient Katherine Paul

UC German Studies graduate student and Fulbright recipient Katherine Paul

“The support I received from the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards was immense," she said. "It didn’t matter how many drafts I sent, I received helpful and quick feedback, and even had a one-on-one meeting to discuss my final draft.”

When Paul received only six months of funding, she had to revise her schedule to match the length of time she would be there.

“I managed to see some theater while in Berlin and to get a lot of archival research finished, but I was not as lucky with the reception study aspect of my proposed project. Many audiences were still processing their experiences directly after the performance and weren’t willing to talk about anything,” she said.

“My non-academic, social experiences were what made this trip for me, though. I had amazing experiences meeting new people, making new friends, seeing amazing sites, and enjoying another culture. I spent a lot of time in Berlin itself, but was able to also see other German cities, too.”

While her research didn’t turn out exactly the way she wanted it to, Paul said she did learn how strong and resilient she is through putting herself in challenging situations without her typical support systems.

Looking back, she encourages students who are interested to simply go for it.

“Don’t hesitate to apply for awards like these.  Take advantage of the resources on campus, especially the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, and just go for it,” she said.  “Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from achieving what you feel you deserve. It’s always worth applying, no matter the outcome – and the outcome may even surprise you.”

This story is one of a series exploring the stories of students in the College of Arts and Sciences who worked hard, dreamed big, and won life-changing experiences for their efforts. Learn more about UC's Office of Nationally Competitive Awards.

Feature image at top: Mick and Mack, the iconic mascots for UC's College of Arts and Sciences. Photo/Anne Bowling