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The Carletonian

Falling Fellowships Prompt Director Search

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The number of Carls who apply for the most prestigious fellowships is dropping. Mike Flynn isn’t concerned.

Flynn, interim director of external fellowships, helps pair the college’s most promising students with the opportunities that best meet their educational goals.

In recent years, Flynn has seen a marked decrease in the number of student pursuing awards like the Rhodes Scholarship. He believes that the quantity of applicants is starting to reflect the odds of actually earning a fellowship and doesn’t suggest a decrease in the quality of applicants.

“The sharp decline is in part a recognition of how difficult it is to win a Rhodes. It is very rare to win one at a place like Carleton,” said Flynn. With the advice of faculty, students are encouraged to apply for the best scholarships they have the highest chance of receiving. Better advising could be why fewer people are applying for fellowships like the Rhodes.

We encourage people who have strong records to think carefully about applying for a Fulbright instead of a Rhodes. The Rhodes Scholarship has a very time-consuming application.”

Indeed, one can only write so many applications before the law of diminishing returns sets in. It is in a students’ best interest to focus their efforts where payoffs are the most likely.

Despite outnumbering Rhodes Scholars 250 to one, Fulbright Scholars are anything but run-of-the-mill.

Over 50 fellows have gone on to become Nobel Prize laureates. Recipients share their distinction with prominent academics and activists such as Linus Pauling, Gabby Giffords and Milton Friedman.

“We would like to win about ten Fulbrights every year and we think that application numbers of 30 or higher ought to get us there,” said Flynn. Most years, Carleton produces half a dozen or so fellows.

The last time Carleton produced a Rhodes Scholar? 2003.

Of course, Ivy Leaguers are more likely than their liberal arts college peers to receive such honors. This isn’t so much due to differences in student potential as it is a result of schools like Harvard and Yale having perfected the nomination and advisory processes.

This week, the College will begin to interview candidates to take over for Flynn, who is now serving his second year as temporary director and is also chair of the linguistics department.

The new position will be for a permanent director of external fellowships, which number about 20, as well as fellowships within the College.

Flynn endorses the change. He believes the current contenders seem well-suited for the job.

“We’re looking at two kinds of people. One kind of person has already demonstrated success in advising fellowship applicants at other institutions that are like Carleton. The other kind of person we’re focusing on has demonstrated an ability to work with Carleton students, or Carleton-like students, in academic environments.”

“We know the applicants can all learn the details of the fellowships. It’s really a matter of having the right kind of personality and skill to work well with our students,” said Flynn.

The hiring decision is slated for January, with the next director taking over in the fall. Though the deadlines for Fulbright and Watson Fellowship applications have already passed, there is still time for upper-classmen to look into other prominent programs.

“We’re now gearing up to do Goldwater, Truman, Beinecke and maybe a few others if we get the right applicants,” said Flynn, who strongly encourages those interested to visit the ‘Student Fellowships’ webpage.

Flynn’s insistence comes from personal experience. In 1981, he was granted a post-doctoral fellowship through the Fulbright Program, which he spent at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands researching natural languages.

“It had a very dramatic effect on my life,” said Flynn, smiling. “It’s how I met my wife!”

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