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College's help doesn't stop with Commencement, grad students find

With help from a group of staff and faculty advisers at Bates, biology major Kelton McMahon recently won a National Science Foundation fellowship to study ecological geochemistry at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

But what may be surprising about McMahon’s good fortune is that he hasn’t been a Bates student for a while. He graduated last year. Still, even well after graduation, he was eligible for grant-application assistance from the Bates Graduate Fellowships Committee.

“Having a committee like the BGFC at your disposal makes a tremendous difference” in the quest for support, McMahon says. “These fellowships are extremely competitive and nearly everyone applying has excellent grades, recommendations and so forth.” It was the BGFC’s guidance in polishing his application essay, he says, that made the crucial difference.

In fact, the committee works with students as early as their sophomore year and with alums as late as five years after graduation. Its assistance includes matching prospective awards to a student’s circumstances, coordinating grant applications, working with candidates on their application essays, coaching for interviews, and even helping with travel costs for grant finalists. And the committee is the college’s official intermediary between students and fellowship programs.

“The committee was extremely helpful in all aspects of the application process, from critiquing my fellowship proposal to helping me compile the application materials,” says McMahon, who is working toward his Ph.D. in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Biological Oceanography.

Matteo Pangallo, an English major who graduated from Bates in 2003 and is building a career in theater, was accepted into a graduate program at King’s College London for 2005-06. But the acceptance came too late for most graduate scholarships and fellowships.

“The committee directed me toward the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship,” he says. “They knew that it was still available for the upcoming academic year, and that I would probably be a good fit for it.” As indeed he was, winning the scholarship in April 2005.

Pangallo calls the committee “instrumental” in his receiving the Cooke scholarship, a generous award that has enabled him to stay focused on his educational goals. “Without it, I would have had to spend my entire savings, take out a substantial loan and find part-time work,” he says.

“By not having to pick up a part-time job,” he adds, “I have been able to secure an unpaid internship in the research department at the Globe Theatre,” the modern recreation of Shakespeare’s home theater. “That’s been one of the highlights of my time in London.”

Pangallo is now working on his dissertation, which involves preparing the first-ever modern critical edition of a rare manuscript play from 1632.

One of the most important aspects of the BGFC’s work is simply making students aware that financial aid for further study awaits them after graduation from Bates. Statistics show that students who succeed in winning graduate support “are the ones who start early and work steadily over an extended period of time to develop truly outstanding applications,” says Robert Allison, professor of religion, a seven-year member of the BGFC and its acting chair during the sabbatical of anthropologist Elizabeth Eames.

“Events like the sophomore dinner and the fairs that we run to raise awareness and interest early in students’ careers at Bates are critical to the program,” he says.

Fulbright, Ford Foundation and Mellon are a few of the better-known grant programs in the committee’s arsenal. Perhaps as important as the money itself is the cachet borne by certain programs. His NSF fellowship, says McMahon, “is one of the most prestigious awards given to an entering graduate student. It’ll be really helpful as I apply for future grants and a faculty position in academia.”

Many of the top fellowship programs require that the baccalaureate institution nominate the candidate or submit an application for her or him. In Bates’ case, that’s the job of the BGFC. And some programs are invitation-only.

“We’ve worked proactively to get Bates on the invitation lists of several of these programs,” says Allison. “But for the most part, Bates’ own prestige as an excellent undergraduate college has won us those invitations.”



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