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Nationally Competitive Scholarship Recipients Engage in Virtual Experiences
The COVID pandemic has led to the cancellation or delay of many nationally competitive scholarship experiences since the spring of 2020. Fortunately, many Syracuse University national scholarship recipients had opportunities to engage in their scholarship experiences virtually this past summer.
Rachelly Buzzi, a senior international relations major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences, participated in the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. The program prepares participants for graduate school and ultimately for roles serving the public good.
“I was definitely apprehensive about a virtual experience—mainly because the program is so rigorous and time-consuming, but I am really glad I did it,” she says.
“I gained so many quantitative skills that are important to public service and that complement my current studies in international affairs.”
Buzzi, who is also pursuing a minor in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises at the Whitman School, took courses in math, economics and data science, and says it was great to get in-depth and hands-on experience in those areas.
“It was frustrating at times, but the professors were so helpful and understanding, and the program actually made me so much more confident in my skills,” she says. “PPIA really helped me solidify that I do want to pursue graduate school. It showed me how to prepare for grad studies, what to look for and what to expect which helped me a ton, especially as a first-generation college student.”
She says the best part of the program was the people she met. “Everyone in my cohort is doing such great things, so it felt really validating and comforting to also be part of the cohort. It was great to connect and bond with them, even if it was just online. I still talk to several of them today,” Buzzi says. “The PPIA experience is definitely something that will stay with me as I continue with my studies and work towards a career in public service.”
Claire Howard, a junior international relations and economics major in the Maxwell School and the College of Arts and Sciences, received a Critical Language Scholarship for immersive study of Arabic. She says she was a bit apprehensive about learning language online.
“After more than a year of online classes, I wasn’t sure a virtual language immersion program would prove beneficial to learning or growth,” she says. “However, I was delighted to find that I was completely wrong.
Howard says the CLS program, even in a virtual environment, dramatically increased her understanding and competency of Arabic in a short time frame. “My classmates, teachers and language partners were so supportive and encouraging through the whole experience that I always felt excited and confident in my ability to effectively learn and communicate in a foreign language.”
The experience has also opened doors for her future, she says. “Members of the CLS alumni community have gone on to build incredible careers, from foreign service to academia to corporate success, and those alumni have been an invaluable resource as I am trying to build my own career. I couldn’t recommend the program enough.”
Jason Tan, a junior chemical engineering major in the College of Engineering and computer science, engaged in a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF REU) program in chemical engineering in the Center for Bio-mediated and Bio-inspired Geotechnics (CBBG) at Arizona State University (ASU).
Tan was also apprehensive as he approached the virtual experience. “Initially, I was confused about how a virtual REU would work,” he says. “After all, don’t you have to be in a lab to contribute to the research?
Tan says he was proven wrong by Cesar Torres, associate professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy in ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and graduate mentor Zachary Hubbard. “They brainstormed ways of having me contribute and decided to have me work on COMSOL Multiphysics. This program allows me to model the reaction they’re studying and predict results, which saves time/effort on potential experiments. I got to see (virtually) the lab and the experiments, which was nice.”
In addition to research, Tan had weekly meetings with other REU participants in the same program, attended seminars hosted by professors and participated in professional development opportunities.
“The people running the CBBG program did their best to make sure that the virtual REU experience was as good as it could be,” Tan says. “Although the REU was virtual and I’d prefer in-person, I’m still grateful for having the opportunity.”
Madison Tyler, a junior English and textual studies and African American studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences, received a Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (MURAP) award to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. MURAP is a preparatory program for students interested in pursuing graduate work in the humanities, social sciences and fine arts.
“Despite it being 100% virtual, with our workshops, mentor meetings and annual conference over Zoom, I had a great experience over the summer and was able to feel part of a vibrant, intellectual and dynamic community. I wasn’t at all apprehensive about doing the program virtually because I’d already done a year of classes on Zoom. Not only was I used to it by then, but I also consider myself an independent, self-driven learner who takes initiative with my own projects and academic goals,” she says.
Tyler says aspects of the program made it work virtually—a cohort that was really engaged and intentional about building community; engaging communication skills workshops; and welcoming and encouraging instructors and mentors.
Tyler gained a number of practical research skills and an understanding of the various phases and stages of humanities research. It was her first time writing a literature review, and a prospectus and paper of that magnitude. She also got to practice her presentation skills and learned to embrace sharing an unfinished product that’s still in-progress.
“That was a game changer for me because sharing your research with others at all stages is a vital part of the process and a great way to continuously get feedback and ask a variety of questions that will only improve the work. You can’t be too precious or too perfect,” she says. “Research is ever evolving and my project on representations of upper middle class Black families in sitcoms may have led to more questions than answers.”