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Q&A: Janice McDonald on scholarships and awards

Janice McDonald, former assistant dean of Harpur College and now director of the Office of External Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards, recently spoke with Inside about her new office and its role on campus.

Why does Binghamton need an Office of External Scholarships, Fellowships and Awards?
It’s time for Binghamton to take this step. We know we have talented students. We know our students are competitive. We need to work with them, usually one on one, so they know the opportunities and they’re ready to pursue them. We have very good students, and they deserve the same opportunities that students at private institutions have.
What types of awards will you target?

We’ll focus on nationally competitive undergraduate and graduate scholarships and fellowships external to the University. For our size and the amount of effort we’ve been devoting to it, we’ve done quite well. We can do better.

What I hope to do is make students and faculty aware of these opportunities. Students need to learn about these awards early in their career and get suggestions about how they can make themselves more competitive.

I also need faculty help to be sure the content of some essays really works. I’m an anthropologist by training, which serves me well in this, but I need faculty experts to mentor these students.

Then, if a student gets an interview, we’ll set up practices. We try to duplicate the actual process as much as possible. We ask similar types of questions as well as comment on how they should behave and what they should wear.

How do you identify promising students?
I work closely with the advising offices. I ask them to send students my way who truly look exceptional. All I need is a name, and then I take it from there. And I ask the same thing of the faculty. It needs to be a team effort; you need the cooperation of the University community.

What gets students energized about going after a major fellowship?
When I talk to freshmen, I ask them what they want to make better in the world, what they can see spending their life working on, what excites them. If they don’t know, they may not be ready to start thinking about graduate school or a fellowship.

But if they have a clear idea, then you can start thinking about how they use their summers. They can deepen their interest in a field, get research or lab experience, take steps to get involved and see if it’s what they really want to do. Then you can start exploring scholarship opportunities.

Students need to find that thing that’s going to keep their interest, that’s going to be their life’s work, that challenges them. And that’s what I try to help students find.

I often ask them, “What if I were your fairy godmother and could wave my wand, what do you want to be doing in 10 years?” And I don’t laugh at them. I listen to them and I take them seriously.

You encourage their dreams. If a 20-year-old can’t have dreams, then the world is a very sad place. I think that’s my philosophy toward working with students.


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Last Updated: 10/14/08