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Fellowships Committee Supports Research

Students apply for funding to study in the United States or in various locations abroad

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013

Updated: Sunday, September 29, 2013 23:09


Courtesy of Frank DiRenno

The University Fellowships Committee of Boston College helps students receive placement in such prestigious fellowships as the Rhodes, Fulbright, Marshall, Churchill, and Truman. BC is among the top schools whose students have routinely won numerous Fulbright Scholarships to spend a year pursuing projects abroad.

Donald Hafner, professor and vice president for undergraduate academic affairs, is the director of the committee, while post-doctoral fellow Jason Cavallari serves as associate director. The committee offers assistance to all students, from freshmen to seniors. Most students apply for fellowships as juniors or seniors, but sophomores sometimes do so as well.

The committee offers advice to students, placing special emphasis on students getting to know faculty members. “Show initiative and take command of your life, be imaginative, and cultivate connections with faculty mentors,” the committee website states. “The most important theme is that last one: cultivate connections with faculty.”

The committee states that faculty members can provide not just information, but also wisdom from their experience, specific advice to the student, and later on, a letter of recommendation.  In addition to offering advice, the committee also hosts the annual BC Undergraduate Research Symposium. During the symposium, students who have done fellowships share what they have done through this opportunity.

The committee also tailors its advice to students in different grades. For freshmen, it emphasizes getting involved in extracurricular activities, taking courses in a foreign language, and to make choices that draw on their personal strengths. The committee urges sophomores interested in fellowships to study abroad, review their options, and “resist the temptation to double major.”

Juniors must meet with campus coordinators for fellowship opportunities during their spring semester. These coordinators help them through the application process that they will complete as seniors. It is often too late for seniors to apply if they have not already begun the process, but for those who have, the committee continues to guide them.

One such student is Frank DiRenno, A&S ’15, who received an Advanced Study Grant from BC to study bioarchaeology at the University of Pisa in Italy this past summer.

DiRenno worked in a paleopathology lab gaining skills in bioarchaeological analysis. DiRenno’s work in the lab involved—among other things—determining the age and sex of individual skeletons from a medieval village cemetery excavated in Sardegna, Italy.  

“I really enjoyed my time working at the lab,” he said. “It was a great opportunity to work with historical skeletal material, something that would prove difficult here in the U.S., let alone Boston.”

DiRenno, a history and biology major, became interested in the field of bioarchaeology after spending time at the Badia Pozzeveri two summers ago after his freshman year. His sophomore year, with help from faculty at the University, he continued to study osteology and bioarchaeological techniques independently at Boston University’s Medical School.

To fund all of his experiences, he applied for Advanced Study Grants. “While the process can be stressful, it is well worth it, especially because the nature of the proposal writing process forces you to really think about what you want to accomplish, and how you plan to do it,” he said. “It also forces you to think about how your work will contribute to your future at BC and your career plan.”

The University Fellowships Committee guided him in the application process and in shaping a proposal for a plan that the committee would be willing to fund.

“They helped explain how the committee would support skill acquisition projects, especially skills I could not gain here at BC,” he said. “I also had help from a number of BC faculty, especially in editing my proposal, and really focusing on what I wanted to accomplish with the grant.”

DiRenno encourages students to apply for fellowships if they are interested in research or developing certain skill sets. He also echoed the advice of the committee: it is important to get to know faculty members as they can help narrow down and edit students’ proposals.

“Faculty have a lot of experience writing grant proposals, so any advice is very helpful,” he said. “Also, be sure to have a passion for what you propose, it really helps when writing a persuasive proposal.”

Every major department at the University has a sponsor for fellowships as does every fellowship available to students through the University. For more information, students should go online and visit the University Fellowships Committee website.


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