New Office of Fellowships and Awards Opens World of Possibility to UTEP Students
Last Updated on September 03, 2020 at 12:00 AM
Originally published September 03, 2020
By Elizabeth Ashby
The University of Texas at El Paso has opened an Office of Student Fellowships and Awards to inform and support UTEP students applying for graduate and undergraduate scholarship and fellowship opportunities. This new office in the Division of Student Affairs will assist students applying for external funding for research, study abroad, internships and graduate school.
“The best students at UTEP can compete with the best students anywhere; they need the encouragement to know that they can,” UTEP President Heather Wilson said. “We established the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards to give students the guidance and support to prepare themselves for these graduate fellowships.”
Wilson was the first person in her family to go to college and is a Rhodes Scholar.
“I had no idea that there were scholarships to go to graduate school until a faculty member told me about it and sent me to an office that helped me look into it,” Wilson said.
There are a large number of competitive postgraduate and undergraduate fellowships available, but often students do not know that they exist or how to apply for them. This office will help students identify relevant funding opportunities and support them as they apply for national and international fellowships, scholarships and awards, including the Rhodes, Marshall, Mitchell, Truman, Gilman, Gates, Goldwater, Fulbright, National Science Foundation and others.
“The centralized resources offered at the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards will streamline the application process and make it more efficient for our students, faculty and staff,” said Catie McCorry-Andalis, Ed.D., associate vice president for student engagement and dean of students at UTEP. “Our students are talented, resilient and capable of reaching great heights in their academic careers. We can’t wait to see the future success stories that result.”
The office is led by Melanie Meinzer, Ph.D., who comes to UTEP with a background in academia, fellowship administration and bolstering diversity pipelines in higher education.
While teaching at St. Olaf College in Minnesota, Meinzer first gained experience guiding and encouraging students as they pursued competitive fellowships. As a former Boren Fellow, she was able to give feedback to students as they crafted their essays, advising them on how to draw connections between their projects or plans of study and the funding agency’s goals. In her subsequent role as Director of Mellon Programs at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Meinzer gained insight from the other side of the application process as a fellowship administrator.
Now, she’s ready to impart her knowledge to UTEP students. She has already hit the ground running, offering information sessions and connecting with potential applicants. The staff are currently working remotely and recently launched a resource-rich website.
Recent events included a virtual meeting with undergraduate students who are interested in the new Hawkins Scholarship.
They learned details of the scholarship, which was initially announced at the inaugural Honors, Scholars and Fellows Day in February 2020, that will award $10,000 to two undergraduate UTEP students.
The funds can be applied to students’ tuition and fees, but students are encouraged to use the award to participate in high-impact experiences — such as study abroad, research projects or internships — that will enhance their preparation and competitiveness for graduate school and other prestigious fellowships. Applicants can expect a selection process similar to that of the Rhodes Scholarship program.
She encourages students, even as early as their freshman year, to take advantage of the office’s resources by planning ahead.
“When you think about applying for an award like Fulbright, it can feel overwhelming. That’s why we break that application process down into steps,” Meinzer said. “If I’m a sophomore, and I want to teach English in Japan after college, what should I do now?”
Enhancing accessibility, honing students’ writing and interviewing skills, and providing training and support are key goals for Meinzer. She also hopes to help students value their own efforts, even if an application does not result in an award.
“Every time you write a fellowship application essay, you’re also drafting ideas that you can use for an essay for another fellowship, or maybe for graduate school,” she said. “If you write a great personal statement and you don’t get a Fulbright, that personal statement contains a personal narrative that you can use for your graduate school application personal statement, you just have to adapt it.”
Building on Success
While UTEP has established success with organizations including the National Science Foundation’s Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Gilman Scholars Program, the OSFA will build on these successes and expand the system of fellowship advising on campus to create a more robust culture of scholarship.
Senior Destiny Rodriguez, an accounting and finance double major, has already demonstrated the success of UTEP students in these competitive scholarship programs.
The Honors Program student earned a Gilman Scholarship that funded a Fall 2019 study abroad in France, as well as awards from the Houston Endowment Scholarship program. She is glad to learn that there is an office that creates a more convenient experience for students chasing after these opportunities.
“Instead of having to find out about each scholarship individually, or find a scholarship by accident, there’s this office that can actually tell you all the opportunities available to you, where you can be of use, and what you are eligible for,” she said.
For UTEP students, considering these opportunities and reaching out to this office could be the best first step, Meinzer said.
“You see something like Mitchell, or Marshall or Rhodes, and you think you have to be from an Ivy League school to get this award,” Meinzer said. “A lot of students don't know that these kinds fellowships are for them, that students from UTEP have won prestigious fellowships, will win these fellowships, and that they can compete for these awards.”