December 21, 2014  

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CATCHING UP WITH ROBYN CURTIS

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Robyn Curtis

Editor's note: Robyn Curtis serves as the National Scholarship Officer in the Honors College at The University of Southern Mississippi. Curtis talks about her job and the students she serves in this question-and-answer feature.

Q: When did you join USM as National Scholarship Officer?

A: I became the National Scholarship Officer in July of 2008.

Q: What are your duties in this role?

A: I help students to find national scholarship opportunities that match their majors and career goals. Then I advise them how they can develop their record on campus throughout their time at USM so that they will be best positioned to prepare a competitive application when it is time to apply. Then I mentor them through the process of application so that they can put forward the most competitive application possible. I also work with faculty members to make sure their recommendation letters emphasize the criteria each particular program is looking for.

Q: Some people may not be aware of the wide variety of scholarships that are available. What types/categories should students and parents be aware of?

A: There are so many types of scholarships available. Some programs support study abroad, others place an emphasis on student research, and then there are those that seek to identify students who are service leaders. The national scholarship office website lists programs that are open to the broadest range of students, but there are many others. The best way to find out if there is a program for you is to come in for an advisement appointment.

Q: What do students need to consider in advance of applying/competing for scholarships ?

A: Because the criteria varies so greatly from program to program, the biggest thing to consider is early preparation.  Students are most likely to be competitive for national awards when they come in for advising early in their careers and choose activities and coursework in a purposeful way.

Q: Obviously scholarships are helpful in funding a student’s education. What are other benefits ?

A: My students always say that even when they don’t win, the process was still beneficial.  Applying for a national scholarship requires you to think about yourself and your goals in a way most students have not had to previously. Aside from that, winning a national scholarship or being named an honorable mention always brings other benefits beside the cash award. In some cases those benefits are very tangible, such as extensive professional development opportunities, super computer access or priority admission to premiere graduate institutions. In other cases it may be more intangible such as the prestige that accompanies the award, opening doors for the student.  

Q: What ways do you assist students in the application process?

A: First and foremost, I’m another set of eyes looking at their application materials. I’m always checking for grammatical errors as well as areas where they are not emphasizing how their record fits the award criteria, or where the student’s choice of words makes them come off differently than intended.  Because I’ve had extensive training through workshops as well as by serving on some national selection panels, I have a pretty good idea of what the programs are looking for in a way that might be less clear simply by reading the information on a website.  I’m with them every step of the way through the process. If the deadline is midnight, then I’m working with them until midnight.  Sometimes I’m also their coach/cheerleader offering words of encouragement after a rough mock interview or during the long wait for results. 

Q: Southern Miss has enjoyed much success in scholarship awards since you came on board, including recently with the naming of Truman and Goldwater scholars. How does it make you feel when a student you’ve helped gets a call or letter letting them know they’re the recipient of a scholarship?

A: It feels like I won too!  I received two national fellowships to fund my graduate studies and when I read those notification emails, it felt exactly like it did when I opened my award letters all those years ago. There is really nothing like shepherding a student through this long arduous process and then having it all pay off, and knowing that I made a real difference in their lives. This is the job I never knew I always wanted.