Two for the Rhodes and more
The Center for Undergraduate Excellence is where students thrive
By Matt Kelly
Nineteen U.Va. students, several of whom are members of the Class of 2005, won eight major scholarships this year, thanks in no small part to the Center for Undergraduate Excellence.
Shepherding students through the maze of scholarship applications has become an important function of the center. This year, University of Virginia students have received Rhodes, Fulbright, Mitchell, Truman, Luce, Goldwater, Jack Kent Cooke and Beinecke scholarships. Students also applied for Marshall and Udall scholarships.
“There is not another public university that achieved this much in a year,” said Gordon C. Burris, senior special assistant to the president.
“This is as close as you can get to a clean sweep.”
The number of scholarships is a direct result of the center’s work, Burris said.
“We have consistently performed as well as or better than most of our public and private peer institutions,” said Nicole F. Hurd, director of the center and assistant dean for research.
Created four years ago to advise undergraduates about research, the center was merged with the College Fellowships Office, which was overseeing scholarships and curriculum development, and it has evolved to operate a variety of programs. It works with hundreds of students each year, with a goal of touching nearly all students at some point during their time at U.Va., Hurd said.
First based in the College of Arts & Sciences, the center now reports to the Office of the Vice President and Provost to offer its services Universitywide.
J. Milton Adams, vice provost for academic programs, praised the students’ work this year and commended Hurd for the College Guide program, which will send 20 U.Va. graduates into underserved high schools around the state to bolster students’ interest in attending college. The program was created with a grant from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
The high school students will be encouraged to think about college and receive counseling on financial aid at four-year institutions and community colleges, Adams said. It is “essential” for U.Va. to serve a role in “expanding educational opportunities for as many of our citizens as we can,” he said.
The center sees a stream of high achieving and ambitious students come through its doors. Edward L. Ayers, dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, praised the center for helping students “advance their educations in ways simply impossible otherwise.”
“I get to work with these students everyday and watch their dreams start to happen,” Hurd said. “I think it’s cool that my [own] kids have been babysat by Rhodes scholars.”
The center may have only existed for four years, but from the beginning, it received tremendous support. The Faculty Senate, the student-run Undergraduate Research Network and key administrators all intersected at the right time, according to Robert M. Grainger, biology professor and former Faculty Senate chairman.
The senate, which awarded the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards, was considering ways to highlight undergraduate research. Grainger was inspired by a friend who promotes undergraduate research at Duke University. At the same time, students Margaret E. Samra, Lauren S. Purnell and A. Shadi Kourosh, from the fledgling
Undergraduate Research Network, contacted Grainger about raising the profile of undergraduate research.
“It was a wonderful idea to develop further,” said Grainger.
The project picked up a momentum that amazed Grainger. He first met with the three students on Oct. 21, 2001. Purnell and Kourosh addressed the senate on Oct. 23. By Nov. 29, Ayers was on board. By Dec. 11, Vice President and Provost Gene D. Block and Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies R. Ariel Gomez had lent their support.
University President John T. Casteen III promised money from the David A. Harrison III donation on Feb. 13, 2002, to get the program going. Grainger, Block, Hurd and Ayers announced the center’s creation the next day at a Harrison Research Awards ceremony in the Dome Room of the Rotunda.
“I have never seen such uniform enthusiasm for an idea,” said Grainger, who credited the students for the initial push.
Under the center’s auspices are: the College Guide program; administering the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards; the Summer Science and Engineering Scholars program; Research Week, an annual event that promotes graduate and undergraduate research; administering and helping fund the Double ‘Hoo and Kenan research awards; contributing $15,000 to undergraduate research journals, including Oculus and the Wilson Journal of International Affairs; and administering some overseas programs, such as the United Kingdom fellowships, which place fourth-year students in teaching jobs in British boarding schools.
“Thanks to the Center, U.Va. is now an international leader in undergraduate research,” Ayers said. “Other schools look to us as a model that shows how to harness our research capacity to our
“I think I’ve got the best job at the University,” Hurd said. “This is an incredible way to empower students to make the most of their eight semesters here.”
Hurd urges students to make choices and take advantage of opportunities that are available to them.
In the center’s short history, scholarship applications and success rates have increased. Tracking scholarship applicants after they leave U.Va., Hurd noted that they are getting into better graduate and professional schools with stronger employment opportunities.
While Hurd was mid-sentence praising her students for this article, there was a light knock on the door of her office. It was one of her former students, John R. Kiess, who won both Mitchell and Jack Kent Cooke scholarships. He had just returned from a year’s study in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was stopping by to chat.
“When I first met him, he was unsure of the direction he wanted to go in,” Hurd said after he left. Now he’ll begin studying for a Ph.D. at Duke in the fall. But “John will always be my student, no matter where he is,” she said. V
GOLDWATER • COOKE • LUCE • MITCHELL • TRUMAN • BEINECKE • RHODES • fulbrightS ... The Scholars
|James M. Edwards
||William C. Yang
||John R. Kiess
||Jonathan L. Robbins
|Markus A. Weisner
||Catherine S. Neale
||Anne Reynolds Holt
||Margaret E. Sullivan
|Justin B. Mutter
U.Va. is on a par with most Ivy League institutions when it comes to the number of prestigious scholarships its students racked up this year. Here is a list of the awards and the students who won them.
One to two years, up to $7,500 per year
Beth I. Brenner, 21, a third-year biology major; plans to pursue a medical degree and Ph.D. in human genetics; wants to research the cause of human genetic diseases.
• James M. Edwards, 21, third-year chemistry major; plans to pursue a medical degree and Ph.D. in biology; wants to conduct research in oncology and cancer biology.
• William C. Yang, 21, third-year biomedical engineering major, plans to pursue a Ph.D. in that discipline; wants to conduct research on drug delivery, bioprocesses or other bioscience/basic science-related topics at a pharmaceutical or biotechnology laboratory.
Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship
Up to $50,000 a year for up to six years of graduate and professional education
• John R. Kiess, 25, a 2001 graduate; earned a degree in Political and Social Thought; plans to work on a Ph.D. at Duke in the fall; was U.Va.’s first Mitchell Scholar; went to Queens College in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 2003-2004 school year studying Comparative Ethnic Conflict; headed the Congregation City Workgroup in Charlottesville 2001-2003 and was also an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer then.
$22,000 stipend for one year
• Jonathan L. Robbins, 22, a fourth-year political and social thought major, biology minor, global health scholar; plans to pursue a career in international health policy; and spend a year in Asia. At U.Va., founded Student Interpreter Service; volunteers weekly at pediatric endocrinologist’s clinic; delegate to World Student Summit, Society and Health Committee in Singapore; received intermediate honors; belongs to Raven Society and Golden Key Honor Society.
Transportation, tuition, room, $11,000 stipend for one year
• Markus A. Weisner, 24, a fourth-year engineering student; will study at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland; volunteer Charlottesville and Nags Head, N.C., firefighter; founder and president of Association of Student Firefighters; founded Fire Hardware LLC to market equipment he has designed; won Harry S. Truman Scholarship; studied at Universitat Konstanz and did research for the Daimler Chrysler Company in Germany; interned for Sen. George F. Allen (R-Va.); wants to work for Department of Homeland Security.
$30,000 for graduate study
• Catherine S. Neale, 21, a third-year history and American studies major; plans to attend law school; seeks career in public higher education; president of Arts & Sciences Council; student member of Board of Visitors, South Lawn Task Force, U.Va. College Foundation, U.Va. Master Planning Council, Student Council Legislative Affairs Committee, University Guide Service and Undergraduate Research Network; interned for Sen. George F. Allen (R-Va.), state legislator Samuel A. Nixon Jr. (R-27th); 2004 Walter R. Kenan grant winner to research history of slaves at U.Va.
$32,000 for graduate study in arts and humanities
• Anne Reynolds Holt, 20, a third-year interdisciplinary student who designed her own major in dramaturgy, working with the drama, history, English and music departments; will pursue graduate education in New York City and plans to direct plays and operas; was research assistant for professor emeritus Marita McClymonds and assisted in the preparation of two books; directed a production of Henry Purcell’s opera “Dido and Aeneas.”
$35,000 for graduate study
• Meghan E. Sullivan, 22, a fourth-year Jefferson Scholar, honors major in politics and distinguished major in philosophy, will pursue an advanced degree in philosophy; chairs the Honor Committee; volunteers for Legal Aid and Restorative Justice; two-time Harrison research award winner; Echols Scholar; resident assistant; member of the Washington Society Debating Union; recipient of Raven and Shannon awards; and a Robert Kent Gooch Scholar and Phi Beta Kappa member.
• Justin B. Mutter, 24, a 2003 graduate; majored in English and religious studies as an undergraduate; will pursue a master’s of philosophy in theology; has worked as a missionary in a Partners in Health rural hospital in Haiti; won a Johnson Scholarship and Sigma Chi Foundation Scholarship; is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa; and was a Pew Younger Scholar, Echols Scholar.
Covers travel to and from host country, living expenses, books and research, insurance, tuition and orientation training
• Aranzazu Ascunce, 31, graduate student studying in Spain.
• Holly A. Daniel, 27, graduate student studying in Switzerland.
• Gavin J. Irby, 26, graduate student studying in Sri Lanka.
• Stephanie K. Milbergs, 22, 2004 alumna studying in Latvia.
• Nona D. Moskowitz, 33, graduate student studying in Japan.
• Lindsey T. Murray, 23, 2004 alumna studying in Germany.
• Elizabeth M. Rohlman, 29, graduate student studying in India.
• Jann M. Ronis, 30, studying in China.
• Matthew T. Warren, 26, 2004 alumnus studying in Morocco.