A Scholar Pipeline

Applications at retreat sit and listen to a speaker.

Howard's Office of Honors and Scholar Development creates a stream of global leaders.

When Dontae Bell (B.S. ’18) arrived at Howard in 2014, he was familiar with premier awards and fellowships, such as the Harry S. Truman Scholarship and the Rhodes Scholarship, but he didn’t see himself applying for one. “When I thought about prestigious awards, I didn’t think about people who looked like me,” he said. However, a new department in the Office of Undergraduate Studies helped to change his perception.

Launched in 2014, Howard’s Office of Honors and Scholar development (OHSD) identifies national and international prestigious opportunities for Howard Students, provides training and assistance for students applying for these awards and encourages academic success through experiential learning and leadership development.

“OHSD made me realize I was a Howard student, not only was I competitive, but I have a unique perspective that no one else has,” Bell said.

It turns out OHSD was right. In 2017, Bell became the 10th Howard student since 1989 to win a Truman Scholarship, the premier graduate scholarship for aspiring leaders in public service. In making this achievement, Bell was one of 62 students selected out of 768 candidates from 315 colleges and universities.

Bell isn’t the only Bison to compete at the highest levels of global academic excellence. When it comes to top national fellowships, Howard has produced four Rhodes Scholars, three Marshall Scholars, one Schwartzman Scholar, 11 Truman Scholars and one Goldwater Scholar since it opened its doors in 1867. However, 30 percent of those awards were won since OHSD was launched. In addition, Howard has produced 20 Rangel Fellows, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 70 Fulbright Awardees.

In the 2018–19 academic year alone, OHSD was instrumental in the development of more than $530,000 in student awards through fellowships, scholarships and grants.

Identifying a Need

The Office of Honors and Scholar Development is a special initiative of Howard University President Wayne A. I. Frederick, M.D., MBA. “When I was an undergraduate at Howard, nobody talked about the different types of prestigious awards you could apply for,” said Frederick. In fact, he didn’t become aware of some opportunities until after he graduated from Howard. Had he known about them during his time at Howard it could have changed his trajectory.

It was important to President Frederick that Howard students not only learn early on that these awards exist, but that they also be given the support and preparation to help them compete for them and, in some cases, win.

First- and second-year students learn about awards they might apply for through workshops and information sessions. Once a student decides to apply for a particular award or fellowship, OHSD provides more one-on-one interaction where students learn more about the application process. OHSD typically works with between 140 and 160 award applicants per year.

Faculty members and staff work with students to not only encourage them, but to also challenge them to stretch themselves to achieve more than they often think they can accomplish.

While producing finalists and winners of prestigious awards is an accomplishment to be proud of, it’s not the primary goal of OHSD. Students are asked to consider a larger calling for their lives.

“We want them to develop a bigger purpose and be able to clearly state what that purpose is,” said Kari Miller, Ph.D., director of Honors and Scholar Development. For example, a medical student might see her purpose as working to decrease health disparities in cancer treatment. The Office of Honors and Scholar Development would help her to flesh out that expanded view of herself and articulate it.

“We want to prioritize the purpose before the prize and look at the prize in the background and not as the goal,” Miller said. As a result, students are urged to look at their own strengths and unique abilities that they bring to the table and express them through the application process.

Students also benefit from close connections with faculty who provide a mentorship role.

One tradition that has developed over the last three years is a two-day, off-site retreat at Gallaudet University, where alumni award winners and finalists come back to share their knowledge and experiences with students who are potential applicants. “We take a full day to unpack and understand what goes into a strong application and we do a lot of soul-searching in terms of looking at their career plans and the bigger picture,” Miller said.

A Model of Academic Success

The work OHSD does is a perfect example of how the University is demonstrating the goals of the Howard Forward 2024 strategic plan. Pillar one seeks to enhance academic excellence through the support of faculty, research and student development.

“What we do in the Office of Undergraduate Studies is all about student success,” said Melanie Carter, Ph.D., associate provost for Undergraduate Studies at Howard. “Our work is deeply embedded in academic excellence and we try to make sure that we keep that in the forefront of our minds as we’re working with students.”

For students who win awards that allow them to do meaningful research, OHSD also promotes pillar two of the strategic framework, which rewards, among other things, innovation in instruction and research.

One such student is chemistry major Jaquesta Adams, (B.S. ’20) who in 2019 became the first student in Howard’s history to be named a Goldwater Scholar.

Established by Congress in 1986 to honor the work of Sen. Barry Goldwater, Goldwater Scholarships are awarded to sophomores and juniors who are pursuing careers in research in the areas of mathematics, engineering and the natural sciences. Adams was one of fewer than 500 students chosen from more than 5,000 applicants.

Adams credits OHSD for empowering her to move through a challenging application process. “There was that pressure—the weight that no one from Howard had previously won it,” she recalled. “I worried that my research was not substantial enough and I kept looking at every little thing that could possibly be bad about my application.”

However, OHSD encouraged her and helped her to see her strengths. “They helped me push through those feelings of imposter syndrome that I was experiencing,” she said.

Through the process, Adams realized that working with OHSD wasn’t just about winning an award.

“It’s about helping you to express what your goals are in life in a way that makes you a really good applicant for these awards, so even if you don’t receive one, you’re still better off in the end.”

The work of OHSD is also important for recruitment. “Many of these great students we’re recruiting know about these awards and opportunities and they want to make sure their school is prepared to support them in their pursuit,” Carter said.

The awards also serve as physical evidence of what goes on at Howard, Carter pointed out. “When we have a list of students who are competing with students from all over the world, it is evident of what we’ve known all along about Howard and its ability to produce strong leaders.”

In helping students discover their true potential, Bell believes OHSD’s impact expands beyond the borders of Howard’s campus. “Every person I’ve talked to who is connected to Howard has had the mission of serving something greater than themselves,” Bell said. “I think OHSD embodies all of those principles.”

It also helps Howard to continue to live up to its expectations of academic excellence. “Though we know our students are excellent when they arrive, we want to make sure that when they depart, they’ve exceeded their own expectations,” Carter said.

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