More than the Destination

One Monday last fall, Honors College senior Ryan Khalife, who majors in political science and economics, stood outside the JW Marriott Essex House in Manhattan waiting to interview for the prestigious Schwarzman Scholars program, which sends students to Beijing, China for a year of study. A week later, he was at the British Consulate in San Francisco to interview for the selectiv  e Marshall Scholarship, which funds scholars to study in the United Kingdom.

The whirlwind trip was the culmination of a lengthy process. Reaching the national interview stage for one of these highly competitive scholarships, much less two, is a tremendous honor. Ryan had begun preparing applications over a year before – he also applied for the Rhodes and Fulbright Scholarships – during the spring of his junior year.

In New York, Ryan met other Schwarzman candidates from across the nation and heard about their projects, interests and travel experiences. As a part of the review, he participated in a group activity and met Steve Schwarzman, CEO of the Blackstone Group and founder of the scholarship. In San Francisco, Ryan sat in front of a six-person panel of experts and answered challenging questions about his research and qualifications.

For Ryan, the process itself, regardless of outcome, has been immensely valuable. “Of course the main goal is to get the scholarship,” he says, “but if you don’t get the scholarship, the process is still useful.”

This is precisely the attitude LeAnn Adam, the Oregon State coordinator for prestigious scholarships, seeks to cultivate. “I encourage students to look beyond the prestige of the scholarship and think about what the experience means to them in terms of their personal and academic goals and aspirations,” she says. “It’s not about being a ‘Marshall Scholar’ (for instance); it’s about choosing the university in the UK that best fits their interests and how pursuing that degree not only helps them achieve their goals, but also fulfills the ambassadorial mission of the Marshall scholarship.”

For Ryan, the application process allowed him to synthesize his interests and activities within a coherent individual narrative. His personal family background (his father is Lebanese), trips to Cuba with OSU and to Lebanon while growing up, his various work experiences, his coursework in political science and international relations, his honors thesis work on drone strikes – it all fell into place. “I knew I wanted to go into something with public policy, but I didn’t have that clear of an idea. Looking through my resume and what I’ve done and then writing the personal statement, I realized international relations was the subfield I was interested in and diplomacy specifically,” he says.

Not only did this exploration clarify which scholarships he might be competitive for, it helped him think more specifically about his long-term interests and goals, which will help him as he begins venturing beyond his time at Oregon State.

“As students, a lot of times we think more generally about our future goals, but when you have to write these essays, it challenges you to think more specifically, to connect all the experience you’ve had and think about where you want to go with it,” Ryan says.

Collecting faculty endorsement letters and discussing his candidacy with mentors was a further benefit. “The process of applying strengthens the relationship between you and faculty members. I know them better, and in the future, I can go to them for recommendations. You have discussions with faculty about your future goals, and from those conversations, you get other ideas or grad school advice. They might say, ‘If you don’t get this scholarship, here are three grad schools you should think about.’”

This kind of learning, LeAnn says, is exactly why applying for prestigious scholarships is so beneficial, beyond the outcome of the award. “It’s one of the few experiential learning processes that synthesizes practical information from coursework, networking with professionals in fields of interest, gaining support and advocacy from professors and key players and articulating aspirations and dreams in writing and verbally,” she says.

Ryan says LeAnn guided him in targeting which scholarships he might apply for and also set up practice interviews with a campus panel, which was part of the valuable skill-building he has applied to the scholarship interviews and beyond.

“It’s one of the most difficult interviews you’ll ever do,” Ryan says. “All other interviews will seem easier.” That practice, he thinks, has prepared him for almost any situation in the future.

“Students don’t have to go through this process alone,” LeAnn says. “It’s a long-term process of discussion, feedback and strategy; there’s support beyond just turning in the application.” She also encourages students to start early – even in their first or second years at OSU – to begin thinking about what they might be interested in and start developing relationships with faculty mentors, as strong letters of support help students to be successful.

LeAnn sees her main role through this process as providing students as much or as little assistance as they need. She is a guide who helps students clarify their interests, connect with programs and build relationships with faculty.

Students who are competitive in these scholarships are clear about how their education and careers will contribute to society overall, she says, which is a key aspect of the personal reflection LeAnn seeks to evoke. The Marshall interview panel asked Ryan, for instance, why British taxpayers should pay for his degree. “They have the aptitude to contribute to something on a global scale, to something larger than themselves. There’s a definition of leadership that is specific to the candidate but benefits society,” LeAnn says. “It’s an opportunity, in a time of developing identity, to think about what kind of person or scholar they want to be.”

Ryan agrees. Now he is determined to work as an adviser in a politician’s office or in the State Department. He is applying for internships in Washington D.C. and plans to go to graduate school after gaining some work experience.

“This process helps you know what you want to do after graduation. Even if you don’t get the scholarship, you’ve spent that much time thinking about your goals,” Ryan says.

To learn more about applying for prestigious scholarships at OSU, visit topscholars.oregonstate.edu, where you can set up an appointment with LeAnn Adam, coordinator for prestigious scholarships, for a first-time meeting or ongoing advising.

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