In two years, the National Scholarships Office has quadrupled applications for prestigious awards and produced two U.S. Fulbright winners, propelling Georgia College into the national-awards arena.
“The National Scholarships Office is now perfectly poised to help drive Georgia College to preeminence among comparable institutions,” said Honors Director Dr. Steven Elliott-Gower.
“We are in the ‘national scholarships game,’” he said, “and I expect we will see more national scholarship winners bringing distinction to Georgia College in future years.”
When hired in 2008, Elliott-Gower noticed the high-achieving quality of students on campus and advocated for a way to channel their talents into greater academic success. In 2014, President Dr. Steve Dorman and Provost Dr. Kelli Brown charged Elliott-Gower with creating a National Scholarships Office. Anna Whiteside was hired in summer 2015 to coordinate it.
That year, the number of applicants for the Fulbright doubled to seven. This year, it doubled again to thirteen. Four applicants became semi-finalists and two won Fulbright grants.
“The goal was to identify, educate and groom competitive applicants for national awards,” said Dr. Carolyn Denard, associate provost for student success and strategic initiatives and director of GC’s Center for Student Success.
“We are really thrilled and very proud of all our students who’ve been named semi-finalists and finalists for national awards,” she said. “We knew Georgia College students could be competitive, and we’re extremely pleased to see their success.”
Senior Kevin Morris of Savannah, an honors economics and history double-major with a minor in international studies, said the scholarship office was invaluable to him. He’d heard of big-grant awards, like the Fulbright, but never considered applying before Whiteside noticed his potential and convinced him to try.
Whiteside worked alongside Morris every step of the way, right until deadline. She edited several drafts of his personal statements and gathered a committee of faculty mentors to review Morris’ application and help further develop his ideas.
“Ms. Whiteside provided me with an enormous amount of support, insight and encouragement. Without her, being named a Fulbright scholar certainly would not be possible,” said Morris, who will be an English Teaching Assistant this fall in Macedonia.
“One of the best decisions Georgia College ever made was to create the National Scholarships Office and hire Ms. Whiteside as its coordinator,” he said. “I feel very indebted to this office and institution for allowing me the chance to work with her.”
Whiteside recruits early, speaking to first-year students about using academic success, community service and research to win national recognition. She also asks department heads, faculty members and advisors to identify worthy students and mentor them throughout the arduous process.
It can take six months to complete an application like the Fulbright. This year, students also applied for the Barry Goldwater, Harry S. Truman and Boren scholarships – all reputable awards with complicated applications.
“It’s not easy to apply,” Whiteside said. “They have to be introspective and think about why they’re applying and that can be a massive thing to figure out.”
Twenty-one students – ranging from sophomores to seniors from across campus – were honored this month for applying to national awards. Faculty were also recognized for producing high-academic achievers. Mentors were honored for guiding students through the grueling process.
Alumni Dillon Johnstone spoke about being a finalist for the Truman public-service award last year. Johnstone flew to Texas for interviews and competed with students from universities like Princeton, Brown, Rice and Chicago.
Competing and winning against large, esteemed institutions is a trend Denard plans to continue.
“We have certainly met our early goals,” she said, “and we look forward to continuing to be competitive for elite national scholarships and winning more awards.”
“We also want to spread the good news about the success Georgia College students are having” Denard said. “Because of our students, we have a good story to tell.”