Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Editor's Introduction

Academic journal article Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council

Editor's Introduction

Article excerpt

The past two decades have seen a rapid professionalization of national scholarship advising at colleges and universities. Concurrently, the number of national scholarships has increased from the few that everybody recognized--the Rhodes, Marshall, Truman, Goldwater, and Fulbright--to hundreds that target different kinds of potential applicants. While scholarship advising used to be a volunteer activity performed by a few faculty members working with a small number of students, it is now usually a distinct administrative and structural unit with its own staff, often positioned within an honors college or program and in any case working in close collaboration with honors administrators and faculty. Identifying, recruiting, coaching, and coddling scholarship applicants is now a career track eyed closely by presidents and provosts eager for "wins"--perhaps not as coveted as wins in football or basketball but providing significant status and visibility that enhance the institution's reputation.

Given the central role that scholarship advising has come to play in honors administration, a Forum on "National Scholarships and Honors" is timely, if not overdue. A Call for Papers on this topic went out via the NCHC website, listserv, and e-newsletter inviting members to contribute to the Forum. The Call included a list of questions that Forum contributors might consider:

Has the expanded focus on competition for national scholarships
enhanced or diminished the quality of honors education? Should
potential candidates for national scholarships be identified as
incoming freshmen or as students who have already proven successful in
college? Should national scholarship advisors, whose numbers have
proliferated rapidly in the past two decades, be housed in and
associated with honors or operate independently of honors? What ethical
complexities arise from the amount of help available to national
scholarship applicants? Do national scholarship candidates take on a
role similar to athletes in boosting an institution's reputation and
rankings, and what are the consequences for the students? Does the
competition for national scholarships help focus students' interests in
scholarship, extracurricular commitments, study abroad, and/or service
activities? Does the competition broaden or narrow students' interests?
Does the competition enhance or disrupt the sense of community often
associated with honors?

The lead essay for the Forum, which was distributed along with the Call, is by Lia Rushton, formerly National Scholarship Advisor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). The Call indicated that "Contributions to the Forum may--but need not--respond to Rushton's essay."

Based on her experience at UAB, Rushton provides thoughtful and nuanced perspectives on the role of scholarship advisors in her essay "First, Do No Harm." In the late 1990s and early 2000s, she was relatively early in the rise of fellowships advising as a professional position within universities, and she could see, in contrast to the previous informal advising system, how important the position was not just in winning scholarships but in helping students benefit from the experience. She considers the pitfalls as well as opportunities of the application process for successful and unsuccessful students in what can be a life-changing experience, for better or worse. From her experience in helping students win Truman, Marshall, Rhodes, Fulbright, and Goldwater scholarships among many others, Rushton distills both general and particular suggestions for the advisors, faculty, and staff who support these students.

The first two responses to Rushton's essays are from an honors administrator and former honors student who were directly involved in the scholarship application process at UAB. The former student is John A. Knox, a Rhodes applicant of the pre-Rushton era whom she mentions in her essay as "still haunted by his Rhodes interview. …

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