Prestigious fellowships awarded to four seniors

Unlike many of their classmates, seniors Leo Tsai, Robert Jenks, Jon Michaels and Michael Snediker no longer have to worry about what they will do after graduation. These four erudite students will be spending the next two years living and studying in some of England’s finest universities, courtesy of the fellowships Williams College recently has awarded them.

Dr. Herchel Smith Fellowships have been awarded to Tsai, Jenks and Snediker for two years of graduate studies at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Eng. (Harvard is the only other school in the country whose students receive Smith Fellowships, but they cannot claim Smith’s son as an undergraduate alumnus.) A Martin-Wilson Fellowship has been awarded to Michaels for two years of studies at Worcester College, Oxford, Eng.. The fellowships will provide for the students’ tuition, room, board and travel expenses while abroad.

The students seemed to be attracted by the opportunities the fellowships provided for them. Jenks said, “It is just a great opportunity for study. I will be able to better prepare myself for graduate school, and make up for the fact that I never went abroad during my junior year.” Jenk’s Physics tutorial cohort, Tsai, seconded his sentiment. He said, “The opportunity to study abroad was very attractive. Cambridge has an excellent curriculum, and I will be able to pursue my violin studies there.”

While studying in England, the students will be able to pursue a B.A., somewhat equivalent to an American graduate degree, or a Masters degree. Assistant Dean Peter Grudin, who oversees the College’s Fellowship Committee, said the change from the nurturing Williams environment to a more impersonal English college, coupled with a different style of learning, can be a bit of a shock for students.

Current Smith Fellow Tarun Ramadorai ’96 experienced this shock at first, but has found the experience of studying and living in England to be well worthwhile. “The academics themselves are a fairly reticent group,” Ramadorai said. “The work is very differently structured. Yet, I would highly recommend it for other students.”

To even be considered for the Smith and Martin-Wilson Fellowships, a student must go through what Grudin described as “a cumbersome, time consuming, inefficient, yet fair application process.”

The student begins the process by submitting a written application, which consists of the student’s transcript; a list of courses in which he or she currently is enrolled; and an essay – which is the only sample of writing the Fellowship Selection Committee sees – describing the students proposed program of study and his or her reason for wishing to pursue it in England. A faculty application committee then screens that application and chooses students to interview with the two committees. A faculty committee is composed of all the department chairs, the President of the College, the Dean of the College and Grudin, while the other committee is composed of alumni who have held fellowships such as the Martin-Wilson, Smith, Rhodes or Marshall.

After conducting the interviews, the faculty and alumni committees meet and confer to create a ranked short list of the fellowship candidates. The faculty committee then votes and decides on three Smith Fellowship winners, one of whom must intend to study mathematics or the natural sciences, with one alternate, and one Martin-Wilson Fellowship winner with one alternate. The original pool of roughly 20 students is thus trimmed down to six.

Grudin said that applicants are evaluated and chosen primarily on the basis of academic achievement and potential, with only secondary consideration given to extracurricular activities.

Grudin defended the seemingly arduous application process. He said, “The more time and care we put into the application process, the closer we get to being completely fair. I also think that it is important to honor these fellowships, which may not be as prestigious as say the Rhodes and Marshall but which are every bit as good, with our time and energy.”

Jenks found the application process to be a blessing in disguise and described it as “smooth and painless as compared to other fellowships such as Rhodes.”

Besides the Smith and Martin-Wilson Fellowships, Williams students apply for many different fellowships and grants.

“The place has been humming with excitement recently,” Grudin said, “with students being awarded Smith and Martin-Wilson fellowships and interviews for Rhodes and Marshall Fellowships.”

Other fellowships which students regularly apply for are Rhodes, Marshall, Watson, Churchill, Fulbright, Truman and Goldwater Fellowships. For example, Michaels also has been offered a Rhodes interview, and Jenks is a Winston Churchill nominee.

Grudin said the faculty provide tremendous amount of support for those students who are seeking fellowships. They help students with applications and give preparation interviews when needed. He pointed out, however, that unlike many schools Williams leaves the pursuit of fellowships as a “do-it-yourself” endeavor with support from the faculty.

“Some universities produce Rhodes candidates like Perdue produces chickens,” Grudin said.