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UC A&S 2018 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 (NCA) 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 (NCA) 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  Fulbright ETA recipient Mary Grace Sprockett reflects on her experience as a "truly once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Fulbright ETA Recipient

Fulbright ETA recipient Mary Grace Sprockett

Fulbright ETA recipient Mary Grace Sprockett

The Fulbright ETA is specifically designated for English Teaching Assistants, where Fulbright scholars abroad are placed in local classrooms to help the local English teachers. When Mary Grace Sprockett, a graduating senior from UC with degrees in secondary education and history, won this award, she packed her bags for Slovakia. Leaving in September after graduation, she was in Slovakia for just under one year.

She describes that year as the best of her life. “My actual experience was more than anything I could have imagined,” she said. “From meeting incredible people, to working with and teaching Slovak students, to travelling around all of Europe, the experience was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” 

Sprockett was placed in Modra, a small town about 30 minutes outside the country’s capital, Bratislava. Here, she was able to wander the vineyards, admire the unique pottery, and make lifelong friends.

Sprockett’s trip had an interesting family twist – her father’s family is originally from Slovakia, so she was able to travel to the village her great-grandparents are from and buried in. Between tracing her roots and traveling the countryside, Sprockett said her lowest point was actually getting on the plane to come back home.

Getting to Slovakia, though, took support from the university. “UC was tremendous help with my application process for the Fulbright,” she said. “The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards, and Cara Pickett specifically, were the driving force helping me navigate through the process of applying and the steps that came after the application process. Without UC’s support, I would not have been able to complete the Fulbright application.”

Sprockett is extremely grateful for her experience through the Fulbright program, and would recommend it to current students. “The best advice I would give if you are considering applying for these types of awards would be to get ahead of the application process early!” she said. “Begin researching the type of award you would want to apply for, look into people who have done the award and reach out for advice, and begin writing. Find a personal connection to the award and run with it.”

Learn more about the Office of Nationally Competitive Awards.    

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 experience for their efforts.

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