Fellowships Demystified: Unlocking the Potential of National and International Fellowships

Laura Paisley

Students often come to Oxy thinking about internships or graduate school opportunities. Fellowships, on the other hand, are a little less familiar to most. Read on to learn about what they are and what fellowships can do for you (yes, you!).

Interested in the role caregivers play in supporting older adults, Ashley Nakagawa ’21 applied for and won a Fulbright-MITACS Globalink Scholarship during her junior year. That summer, she studied aging and the Canadian healthcare system.

“I chose to apply for the award because it seemed like a great opportunity for me to challenge myself in graduate-level research and explore a potential career in public health research,” Nakagawa says. 

As a senior, she leveraged that experience to apply for a postgraduate Fulbright award that would build on her research as part of a dementia technology pilot testing program in the Philippines. She is currently a semifinalist.

Fellowships, scholarships and national awards provide unique opportunities for undergraduates and young alumni to pursue interests and gain experience that will cultivate their academic, professional and personal development. Many fellowships offer funding that makes intellectually enriching experiences possible.

“I chose to apply for the award because it seemed like a great opportunity for me to challenge myself in graduate-level research and explore a potential career in public health research.”
Ashley Nakagawa '21

That might look like doing a fully funded research project between college and graduate school. Or it could mean receiving major funding to complete a graduate degree through a Marshall or Rhodes Scholarship (for a fully funded master’s degree in the UK) or a National Science Foundation (NSF) Graduate Research Fellowship.

Other opportunities include working for a government or service program domestically through the Capital Fellows Program or the Coro Fellowship in Public Affairs; or funded scientific research for sophomores and juniors as a gateway to subsequent NSF funding. There are many options for going abroad, such as the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, NYU Shanghai Global Writing and Speaking Fellowships, the Luce Scholars Program and the Gilman Fellowship, to name a few.

Oxy has long been a top producer of Fulbright awardees, allowing seniors and young alumni to do everything from teaching English abroad to studying horticulture therapy for children in Sweden to joining a Spanish lab to study bioengineering and tissue regeneration.

Beyond their immediate benefits, fellowships can also serve as a stepping stone to other exciting things such as additional fellowships, networking opportunities in your field, graduate school or a dream career. 

“Fellowship participants represent a wide range of people in different majors going into different industries or continuing on in academia,” says Jennifer Locke, director of national and international fellowships at Oxy.

As a senior, economics major Jordan Walker ’21 won a Luce Scholarship, which funds a year of study and professional development in Asia. He is interested in a career of civil service, and after his year abroad he plans to attend graduate school to expand his understanding of public transportation systems.

“During my Luce year, I want to learn as much as I can about how we can reprioritize our cities for people over cars by building effective transportation systems,” Walker says.

Darla Howell ’20 won the NYU Shanghai Speaking and Writing Fellowship and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) in Taiwan at the same time. She chose the first option since she wanted to continue her Mandarin studies and had a background in tutoring English, but then she reapplied to the ETA in Taiwan while in Shanghai and accepted that as well.

“I am also considering a career in higher education, and this fellowship will give me a glimpse of how international education operates in a college setting,” Howell adds.

After doing postgraduate Fulbright research in Japan, Hailey Crowel ‘06 went on to work for the Los Angeles Times and now Google. Allen Chen ’19 built upon his experience doing a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Romania and works as an assistant editor at W.W. Norton publishing company.

So who should be applying for these awards? Many students assume they aren’t qualified enough, but as Locke points out, an Occidental education positions students particularly well for these fellowships. Special Oxy programs like the Kahane U.N. Program, Campaign Semester, study abroad and undergraduate research also greatly strengthen an application.

Read about student experiences first-hand for a variety of fellowships and scholarships.
Fellowship Stories

“The qualifications that you get from a liberal arts education make you a strong candidate for a number of awards,” she says. “I also think the natural curiosity of Oxy students, their willingness to help others and their desire to make that part of their work makes them a really good fit for the mission of many fellowships.”

Another common misconception is that fellowships are only for seniors, certain majors, or those with a perfect GPA.

“Fellowships are meant for a wide variety of people,” Locke says. “There are so many out there, and GPA is only one part of the puzzle—there are a whole range of qualifications that can make you a very competitive candidate.”

What’s more, help is always available. Locke encourages students to meet with her early on to discuss options and opportunities. Certain scholarships like the Udall (environmental sustainability), the Truman (public service) and the Goldwater (natural sciences) are designed specifically for sophomores and juniors. But fellowships are also available for those who have already graduated from Oxy—Locke works with about 15-20 young alumni every year. 

While winning always feels great, even if you don’t get your fellowship the process of applying is a valuable experience that can pay dividends elsewhere.

“It forces students to take time early on to reflect on what they’ve achieved at Oxy, where they’re going next and how they’re going to talk about these things with people outside their own department,” Locke says.

It also leads to the development of quality application materials that can be used for other purposes. Locke adds that she gets notes from many applicants saying how grateful they are for the process, how it helped them get into their top graduate school or helped clarify what they really want to do after graduation.

“The prize is amazing but the process is also really rewarding.”

To learn more about national and international fellowship opportunities, sign up for an appointment via Handshake (students) or email Jennifer Locke at jlocke@oxy.edu (alumni) for a consultation and brainstorming session based on your interests.