Saturday, March 14, 2009

Interview with Jane Curlin, Udall Foundation

I wrote these questions for Jane last night, and she answered them as the rest of us read files this morning.

Q: What do you look for in Udall readers?

We like to have a mix of fellowships advisors, faculty representatives, environmental studies or science professors, Udall Scholar alumni, and Native American educators, health care professionals, and policy experts. As we put together our 6 or 7 reading teams each fall, we consider what part of the country they're from, whether they work at a public university or a liberal arts college, if they work for a non-profit organization or government, and what particular area of the environment, tribal policy or Native health care they have expertise in.

We also like to keep it fresh, so we rotate readers off the selection committee fairly frequently. At least half of our readers have read at least once, but we bring in new readers each year.

Beyond that, readers should leave their agendas at home, and bring a sense of humor with them. We take the selection process extremely seriously, but we also like to have fun.

Q: What happens between when you receive the files and when the reading teams get them?

When the Fed-X and the UPS truck pull up outside our door the first week of March, it's like Christmas at the Foundation. We love opening the packets and seeing all those applications from so many wonderful students who are doing amazing things. Removing countless staples and paper clips does get a bit tedious (note to faculty representatives: You can open the transcripts and letters, and we love you if you remove staples for us!).

We have 8 days from the deadline to the selection committee meeting to process 500+ applications. We check each application to ensure that a) the nominee is eligible and b) the application is complete. A surprising number of applications are missing transcripts, letters, and even the essay. Quite a few nominees take liberties with the fillable Word application, either inadvertently or deliberately, and we've given them the chance to redo their application and resubmit it. We generally work through the weekend in order to make sure everything is ready for the selection committee. Even so, we occasionally miss something (we're only human!). If the faculty representative puts the wrong letter in a nominee's file, we hope we'll catch it, but we're working fast, and if the letter is actually for another student, well, we may spot that or we may not.

Then there's the data entry. Then we check the data entry. It's surprising to us how many facreps and students disagree on the student's state of legal residence. Once we've completed the data entry, we can organize the applications into regions, by state of legal residence, determine how many scholarships, at-larges, and honorable mentions can be awarded in each region (it's based on the number of applicants), and assign the regions to the readers (always keeping in mind potential conflicts of interest).

Q: What happens after the reading of the files are complete?

First, we take a couple of days off. While the selection process is rewarding, even exhilarating, it's also exhausting!

Our next step is to notify the faculty representatives of the 80 scholars. So many facreps get to know their students well during the advising process, and they enjoy being the one to tell their student the good news.

Everyone--scholars, honorable mentions, and non-winners--is notified by mail. Letters go out the last week of March.

Incidentally, planning the Udall Scholar Orientation begins in December, so we're already in full planning mode.

Q: What do you like best about the selection process? What do you wish readers would do differently?

What we like best, in no particular order:

1) Seeing old friends (returning readers) and making new ones

2) Waiting for the files to be returned to us and finding out who our new scholars will be

3) Looking over the applications and picking our favorites. We have more favorites than we have scholarships to give!

There is nothing I wish readers would do differently. Our readers take this process very seriously, and every year we meet 80 amazing new scholars at the Orientation.

Q: What changes, if any, do you see in the next few years in the Udall application process? Will we see an e-app anytime soon?

We hope that an online application could be available in a couple of years. We want to design it ourselves, and build in tools to make the process easier and more beneficial both for nominees and faculty representatives. We know that many facreps conduct a campus nomination process, and we've discussed how we could design an online application system that could help to facilitate that.

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