New UTEP fellowships office geared to help students succeed

Senior+Destiny+Rodriguez%2C+an+accounting+and+finance+double+major%2C+earned+a+Gilman+Scholarship+that+funded+a+Fall+2019+study+abroad+in+France%2C+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.

Photo courtesy of UTEP

Senior Destiny Rodriguez, an accounting and finance double major, 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.

Sasha Minjarez, Contributor

For the first time in its history, UTEP has established an office solely dedicated to helping students with fellowship opportunities.

The Office of Student Fellowships and Awards, part of the Division of Student Affairs, launched this academic year and is being led by Melanie Meinzer, Ph.D.,who joined the university in June.

Origins and purpose

The new office is designed to reach out to students and promote awareness of existing opportunities by identifying students who are eligible, informing them they can apply and advising them on how they can become competitive candidates in the workforce.

Prior to the establishment of this new office, the Office of Scholarships, advised students with scholarship and fellowship opportunities, but the new fellowship office is now helping streamline and polish that process even further.

“Faculty at UTEP have been advising students who are applying for fellowships and awards, but the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards serves as a central coordinating point to bring these efforts together and to amplify the effect of the advising that is already happening on campus,” Meinzer said. “The goal of this new office is to increase the number of UTEP students who apply for prestigious external fellowships and awards, by building awareness among students about these opportunities and connecting students to the enormous wealth of resources and expertise on campus.”

How it’s different from the scholarships office

One distinction between the new fellowships office and the Office of Scholarships is  its funding. Another difference is the scope of the opportunities that each office focuses on.

The scholarships office works with internal funding provided to the university from donors, alumni, and the state. This funding is not extended to national and international competition, making UTEP students compete with each other. The fellowships office on the other hand, facilitates and distributes external funds procured from foundations, government agencies, or individual philanthropic donors like that of the Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

There is a more expansive applicant pool which ranges from across the country to  the world, such as the case with the Rhodes Scholarship.

Fellowship funding is also portable for the purpose of relocating to any desired institution or studying abroad. UTEP President Heather Wilson is a Rhodes Scholar herself and the first member of her family to graduate from college.

“The best students at UTEP can compete with the best students anywhere; they need the encouragement to know that they can,” said UTEP President Heather Wilson in a news release.  “We established the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards to give students the guidance and support to prepare themselves for these graduate fellowships.”

The opportunities it offers

Some of the fellowship opportunities the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards has on its radar is the Boren Fellowship, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, Gates Cambridge Scholarship, Hertz Foundation Fellowship, Marshall Scholarship, Mitchell Scholarship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, Rhodes Scholarship, Schwarzman Scholarship, and the Truman Scholarship.

Opportunities for undergraduates includes the Boren Scholarship, Gilman Scholarship and Gilman-McCain Scholarship, Goldwater Scholarship, Hawkins Scholarship, Houston Endowment Scholarship, and the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute.

The office works with students in  both  undergraduate and graduate levels to help them discover an array of prospective opportunities. Options range from, but are not limited to, the Gilman Scholarship for Pell Grant eligible undergraduates; the Rhodes Scholarship and Fulbright which are exclusive to graduating seniors ; and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program, open to graduating seniors as well as first year graduate students.

The Hawkins Scholarship, introduced in February during UTEP’s Inaugural Honors, Scholars and Fellows Day, is a new undergraduate scholarship of $10,000  being awarded this semester. . The award has no U.S. citizenship requirement and is the only internal scholarship managed through the Office of Student Fellowship and Awards.

Not only is there a perceptible range in the diversity of students being supported, but in the spring semester, UTEP produced seven Gilman Scholars out of 14 total applicants which highlights the success rate and significance of spreading awareness of these opportunities.

“Fellowships are a lot more than just the money, they are personally transformative and provide access to new professional networks that benefit awardees throughout their careers,” Meinzer said.  “The reward for putting in all the effort involved in completing an application can be life-changing.”

In addition to informing students of the availability of these fellowships, faculty and staff are also there to aid students throughout the application process. The process, which typically lasts  three to six months, and includes extensive essays and the gathering of letters of institutional support.  can be rigorous. However,  the faculty and staff at the Office of Student Fellowships and Awards is there for its students with coaching, feedback, and guidance throughout the preparation and development of students’ applications.

Post-COVID-19

UTEP students have  speculated on programs that involve traveling overseas, such as the Fulbright and Gilman awards, amid the COVID-19  pandemic. Since the agencies funding these opportunities have already allocated the funds, the office of fellowships is encouraging students in any case to apply anyway.

A contingency plan for travel disruptions due to COVID-19 may be considered after, but the important thing is to apply, Meinzer said. It’s also important to note  the application process  for these fellowships is carried out in advance from their actual departure. The Howard Gilman Foundation has adjusted to travel restrictions by allowing students to either defer their award for a semester or study remotely.

“The pandemic has limited travel related to some fellowships, but I encourage students to explore scholarship and fellowship funding opportunities and apply as they normally would,” Meinzer said.

The Office of Students Fellowships has adjusted accordingly as well, by conducting all their information sessions virtually. Interested students can also revert to the recorded sessions which will remain posted on the office’s website.

The eye-catching “Dream Bigger” banner which appears on the website, Meinzer explains, is a visual headline representative of leveraging student’s skills and channeling them into acts, like applying, that will get them to where they want to be academically and professionally.

“The overarching goal of the office is to increase the number of students who apply for these prestigious external fellowships, scholarships and awards,” Meinzer said.

“My vision is to build a pipeline of students applying for these kinds of awards from the moment they set foot on campus, whether they are freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors or graduate students. UTEP students have the academic preparation, skills and experience to compete for these opportunities. They have and can win these awards.”

Sasha Minjarez may be reached at [email protected]