Merit-based grants? Students reap enrichment through Faculty Scholarships
April 21, 2017
Each spring, the College offers a Faculty Scholarship of $3,000 to 100 students who have been admitted to Bowdoin through Regular Decision. The scholarship is contingent on their acceptance of Bowdoin’s admittance and can be used to fund any “enrichment activities,” such as research or internships, during the students’ Bowdoin careers.
Faculty Scholar Gabriel Frankel ’17, used his scholarship this past spring break to travel to South by Southwest, a music, technology and film festival in Austin, Texas.
“I was really happy … just to get into Bowdoin, and then to find out that I had also been awarded the Faculty Scholarship was an amazing moment,” he said.
According to Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Whitney Soule, the scholarship is awarded to applicants whom the Office of Admission believes might be especially interested in pursuing an extracurricular project.
“It’s [intended] to honor some of the qualities that we see in a student who demonstrates an inclination towards wanting to do independent research, or someone who is showing a lot of initiative,” Soule said.
According to Soule, the scholarships are not considered “merit-based aid” because they do not directly augment a student’s tuition. Soule explained that the Faculty Scholarships are intended to make Bowdoin a more attractive choice for prospective students and incentivize recipients to enroll at Bowdoin.
“We want them to be thinking of Bowdoin as a place where there are opportunities for specialized research and independent work … and we can facilitate that,” Soule said.
But according to the faculty scholarship’s website, scholarships are distributed based on merit.
“The Bowdoin Faculty Scholarship Program recognizes and honors students who have achieved excellence in their academic work, rank high in secondary school performance, bring special talents to enrich the College, and have demonstrable superior intellectual skills to contribute to their discipline of choice.”
Soule declined to comment on the specifics of how students are selected to receive awards but said that it has to do with students’ demonstrated experiences and interests.
“I don’t like separating out the details of people because it takes away the wholeness of who they are,” she said. “What we’re looking for is demonstrated in a lot of different ways in students’ application. They’re showing in what they study, in what they write, in what their teachers say about them, in what they’re working on academically already.”
After matriculation, Faculty Scholars can use the money at any point before they graduate on nearly any project or pursuit that relates to their interests or passions. In order to access the scholarship money, student recipients must meet with a representative from the Center for Co-Curricular Opportunities and submit a brief proposal and budget.
Brigitte McFarland ’18 used her scholarship to spend a summer in San Francisco working as an unpaid intern for the nonprofit organization Educate Girls Globally.
“I couldn’t have been there if not for that money, so that was really nice,” she said. “That was a really good situation because it was an unfunded internship in a very expensive city and this went a long way in covering my rent.”
McFarland decided to use the money on this project during her sophomore year, and was surprised by how easy the approval process was.
“I sent [the proposal] in and five minutes later they approved it,” she said. “Then they just deposit that much money in your account—it’s wild.”
The process of deciding how to spend the money might prove much more challenging than accessing the money itself. In February, Andrew Cawley ’17 realized he had not yet used the scholarship and was determined to use $3,000 before graduating in May. He ultimately decided to use the scholarship travel to Los Angeles over spring break and spend ten days in the city taking improv classes with the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy group.
“I really like performing, it’s something I want to do or want to be involved with comedy or performance in some regard after school,” he said.
Like Cawley, Frankel chose to use his scholarship to gain experience in the field he intends to enter after graduation. Frankel, a cinema studies minor and aspiring film director, attended South by Southwest in order to learn about the future of the film industry and cinematographic technology.
“Both as a personal learning experience and as a college senior navigating into the next stage of my life, it was rewarding,” Frankel said.
McFarland said she believes the internship provided some clarity as to which jobs she is and isn’t interested in after graduation.
“Career-wise, equal opportunity in education is something that I’m interested in and that helped me explore that,” she said. “It also showed me that I really don’t want to work in fundraising or that office side of a nonprofit, so it was helpful.”
The actual effect that the award has on admitted students is unclear. Cawley, for example, said that receiving the scholarship did not influence his decision to attend Bowdoin.
“I flipped a coin to decide between Middlebury and Bowdoin, and it worked out,” he said.
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I’d really like to see data on the socioeconomic background of students who receive these funds. My hypothesis: the Office of Admissions awards these to wealthy students who attend wealthy private high schools that afford them academic and extracurricular opportunities that appeal to the Admissions staff.
There must be a better, more egalitarian method to disburse this funding.