Secret to Scholarship Success: Applying Themselves

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A U.S. map adorned with pink strips of paper stretches across Dr. Arthur Casciato’s office. Each strip bears the name and home state of a student who might be a candidate for one of the dozens of programs his office, the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships, helps to administer. 

“The more I do this, the more work I create for myself,” he jokes. “Every one of these [slips] is a writing sample I’m going to have to work on.”

The up-side is that as more Penn students are encouraged to apply, an increasing number are walking away with prestigious scholarships to study and research abroad. This year, 18 Penn undergraduate alumni and graduate students have earned 10-month Fulbright Scholarships. “We looked back as far as we could, and this is the highest number [of Fulbright recipients at Penn] we know about,” Casciato says. Over the past decade, the number of recipients has ranged from 2 to 16. Among the research topics of this year’s batch of winners are “Judicial Persecution and Practiced Tolerance in 16th-Century Kaufbeuren, Germany,” “Developing an Anti-Poverty Strategy in the Dominican Republic,” and “Transformations in Hinduism: A Case Study from South India.”

Since CURF was started three years ago [“Gazetteer,” March/April 2001], the number of applications has risen dramatically. Last year 85 students applied for Fulbrights, compared to 61 the year before; 40 applied for Rhodes scholarships, double the highest number that Penn has previously had apply; and 29 students applied for Marshall scholarships. In addition to the Fulbrights there was one Marshall winner [“Gazetteer,” May/June].

“When somebody comes in to my office … I ask them where they want to go to graduate school; then my advice is to apply to every scholarship that will get you there.” 

There’s “no secret boot camp” to these scholarships, Casciato adds. “It’s just getting the appropriate students to apply and then with a little bit of guidance, getting them to believe in themselves and take the risk to submit to” the application and interview process.

“Certainly winning fellowships is a meaningful benchmark in how good a school you are,” he admits. “But we don’t fret too much about producing those results. If we get students who are ambitious, well trained, and educated to apply, the winning will take care of itself.”


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