When Sarah Wappett (COL ’06) was asked to compare soccer fanatics with terrorists, she had to think hard – and fast.
Wappett, a scholar and soccer player, was participating in a grueling mock interview in which Georgetown faculty fired her challenging questions about her academic interest in organized crime.
The interview is just one level of a multi-tiered, months-long application process that a handful of ambitious Georgetown students undertake every year in the quest to win prestigious graduate fellowships like the Rhodes, Mitchell and Marshall awards.
Wappett, a John Carroll Fellow who first heard about the fellowships from University Fellowship Secretary and English Professor John Glavin, is currently applying for both the Rhodes and Mitchell scholarships.
“I was not at first interested,” Wappett said. “I didn’t do research at the time. It wasn’t until I got serious about my research on organized crime that I even considered the fellowships.”
A member of the women’s soccer team for three years, Wappett found that if she wanted to focus seriously on research, there would be a cost. At the end of her third season, she left the team so she could focus on her studies and explore her academic interest in crime.
“More than anything, the fellowships are about passion,” Wappett said. “To say that I fell in love with studying the mafia might sound strange, even suspect, but the immense complexity, innumerous applications and ever-changing cast of characters engages my imagination and analytical capabilities in a way that can only be described as seductive.”
Maher Bitar (SFS ’06), who is applying for both the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships, interns twice a week at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, focusing on Israeli-Palestinian water disputes. On Wednesday, he had his Marshall interview at the British embassy.
“My interest in this field developed gradually as I delved into the politics and history of the Middle East,” Bitar said. “I chose the Rhodes and the Marshall because I want to pursue the study of Forced Migration and Refugee affairs, which Oxford and the School of Oriental and African Studies [at the University of London] both have premier programs in.”
Bitar said that the combination of academic work and activism “complement and strengthen each other.”
Bitar and Wappett are two of about a dozen motivated Georgetown students with specific academic interests who will follow through with the application process this year.
Applying for Prestige
For applicants applying for the 2006 Mitchell, Marshall and Rhodes Scholarship programs, life as an applicant began over a year ago.
Glavin said that students interested in the scholarships should investigate the requirements and expectations of the fellowships in the spring semester of their sophomore year. By the end of the year, students apply for preliminary endorsement from Georgetown.
The next phase of the application process takes place during the end of a student’s junior year and beginning of senior year, though graduate students and alumni may also apply. All three Georgetown students being interviewed for the Rhodes fellowship this year are alumni, Glavin said.
During this phase, students work to receive Georgetown’s endorsement by preparing for evaluations conducted by the fellowship endorsement committee.
Students undergo several mock interviews with members of the committee to prepare them for the real interviews, which will take place later this month. Three weeks ago, applicants began the mock interviews with individual scholarship committees composed of faculty and staff, a Jesuit and a military officer.
“These simulations have consistently pushed me to develop my ability to quickly think on my feet,” Bitar said.
One of the primary questions asked during the mock interview sessions is: “What change do you hope to effect by your work?”
Other questions can be trickier.
“A personal favorite from that genre was `How would you compare soccer hooliganism/fanaticism and the resulting violence to terrorism?'” Wappett said.
After the mock-interviews, the Fellowship Office select the students the university will sponsor to apply for fellowships.
Finding the Right One
Preparation for the fellowship applications may be similar, but the three scholarships are each their own animal.
The Rhodes Scholarship, which British colonialist Cecil Rhodes endowed in his will in 1902, was created to bring the best and brightest men from English-speaking countries to Oxford University, Glavin said. Most Rhodes Scholars today are from former British colonies.
Thirty-two Rhodes scholarships are awarded to Americans annually, according to a Rhodes press release. The program seeks students who are academics as well as leaders, Glavin said. The last recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship from Georgetown was Jennifer Howitt (COL ’05).
The Mitchell Scholarship was established in 1999 by the U.S.-Ireland Alliance “to familiarize and connect the next generation of American leadership with the island of Ireland,” according to the U.S.-Ireland Alliance Web site. The most recent Georgetown recipient, Ben Cote (COL ’05), is currently studying peace studies and conflict resolution in Ulster, Ireland. Twelve Mitchell scholarships are awarded annually.
Unlike the other fellowships, the Mitchell requires an online application submission. A Rhodes application might contain hundreds of pieces of paper, Glavin said.
The Marshall Scholarship is a program open to American graduate students for study at any university within the United Kingdom. It was created out of gratitude to the United States for the Marshall Plan, Glavin said. He added that Marshall committees look for the same qualities as do Rhodes and Mitchell committees.
Effecting “Change in the World”
Most of the students who compete for these scholarship programs are both successful scholars with focused areas of research and visible leaders hoping to effect change in the world around them, Glavin said.
“The fellowships are seeking . demonstrated outcome in areas of specific and in-depth focus,” he said, noting the variety of interests held by recent fellowship winners at Georgetown, ranging from international economic development to Tudor history.
For many, the fellowship application process may seem like a long and arduous journey. Wappett said she was hesitant initially because of the challenge of focusing her academic interests.
“Few undergraduates have a single, focused, intense and independent research body that they have been working on for years, and many are daunted by the idea of starting such a project as a sophomore,” she said.
The process can be taxing but rewarding, however.
“It forces a set of mini-existentialist crises about one’s future that you never really thought about before the process, but then the personal growth resulting is pretty impressive,” Wappett said.
Bitar said focusing his interests has helped his research.
“It has equally pushed me to rethink and confront the ideas and issues I have come into contact with through my academic and extracurricular work on Palestine, the Middle East and refugee issues in general,” he said.