Office helps students win competitive scholarships at WKU

Joanna Williams

WKU is becoming a hotbed for students winning nationally competitive scholarships, and the Office of Scholar Development is a major reason why.

Since its start in 2008, the office has had an overwhelming amount of success helping students win eight Barry M. Goldwater scholarships, eight Fulbright scholarships and three Morris K. Udall scholarships among many others.

Last year, four out of the six students who applied for a Fulbright scholarship won — the national average being one out of four students.

Audra Jennings, director of OSD, said the office’s main goal is to help students with national and international scholarships that take place beyond the classroom. They also help students prepare applications for graduate school and other post-college applications.

“Writing essays for scholarships is a particular type of writing,” said Melinda Grimsley-Smith, coordinator of international scholarships. “What you’re doing is writing to people and asking them to give you money. It’s just a particular type of writing… We’re specialists here.”

Grimsely-Smith said they’re always on the lookout for new information on scholarships so they can assist students.

“We work closely with these scholarships so we know what they’re looking for,” she said. “We have been to meetings to learn more and have met people who are running these competitions to see what kind of information we can get to help WKU students win these.”

Their work has paid off.

In the past three years, WKU has had more students win or receive an honorable mention in the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship than any other college in the state. Jennings called this scholarship “the most prestigious undergraduate science scholarship a student can win.”

Despite all the success the office has had, Grimsely-Smith said one of the major things the office struggles with is the fact only a small group of students know such an office exists on campus.

“People just don’t know that we are here,” she said. “We’re sort of tucked into a corner of campus, physically. The office is new and it’s a big university. We’re doing our best to make sure more people know we’re here and more people know what we do.”

The OSD is located at the top of the Hill by the Honors College.

Some of those efforts include taking a more active role in social media, revamping its website and starting the OSD Ambassadors, a group of students whose job is to spread awareness about the office.

“The ambassadors have been attending events on campus, giving information and we’re trying to get them into the classrooms,” Jennings said.

By being more present on campus, the office hopes to eliminate possible misconceptions. Jennings said a common mistake people make is that the office gives scholarships to WKU students. Also, some people believe that because the office has a close relationship with the Honors College, they only assist Honors students. Neither of these statements are true.

“I think some students think we only work with students in the Honors College, but we work with all students from all colleges and all majors and you don’t have to be in the Honors College,” she said.

La Grange senior Caitlin Pike recently applied for the George J. Mitchell Scholarship with the help of OSD, a scholarship granting one-year of graduate study in Ireland, and is currently waiting to see if she makes it to the first interview stage.

Pike said she would have never known about the application if weren’t for Jennings reaching out to her over the summer.

“They helped me with both essays, along with general suggestions such as who I could get the best recommendations from, research and strategy,” she said. “I’m just really grateful for it.”

Jennings urged freshmen and sophomores who come into college with hopes of winning a competitive scholarship to come to the office and start early because that may make all the difference later on.

“It comes down to who has worked the hardest and who has made their application reflect that,” she said.

Jennings said that even if a student doesn’t win a scholarship she believes they will still learn valuable skills that will serve them well in their future scholarly pursuits.

“Win or lose I really haven’t seen a student come away with less than what they started,” she said. “Most students who work on scholarship essays become better at writing personal statements and scholarships statements, and if you want to go to graduate school, you need that.”