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Three years after program restructuring, number of Marshall and Rhodes scholars remains unchanged

In December 2009, the University drew criticism when it fired then-Associate Dean of the College Frank Ordiway ’81, who oversaw postgraduate fellowship advising. Ordiway’s firing prompted numerous statements of support from the University community, including support from past scholarship winners and a letter to the Daily Princetonian signed by 34 faculty members expressing their “deep disappointment” with his departure.

The controversial move prompted a debate over the effectiveness of campus fellowship advising. In a Princeton Alumni Weekly story after the firing, University Vice President and Secretary Robert Durkee ’69 noted that Princeton “has not performed as well as we would have liked” in the Marshall and Rhodes programs. In the same article, then-Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel said she believed Princeton “should be competitive over the long term with peer institutions for top scholarships such as the Rhodes, Marshall and Gates” and that the planned changes should help with this.

Durkee and Malkiel declined to comment for this story.

In the decade prefacing Ordiway’s firing, the University had 29 Marshall and Rhodes winners, compared to 52 from Harvard, 39 from Stanford, 38 from Yale and 24 from MIT.

This year, Princeton had three winners of the Marshall and Rhodes scholarships, while Harvard and Yale each had seven.

Although the University’s fellowship advising system saw heavy restructuring in 2010, which was at least partially motivated by the lagging number of Marshall and Rhodes Scholarship winners, its performance in these programs has not improved significantly.

From 2008 to 2010, the University had six Rhodes winners, according to the Rhodes Trust, and it had the same number from 2011 to 2013. Meanwhile, Harvard had nine winners from 2008 to 2010 and 13 from 2011 to 2013, while Yale had four and 11, respectively. Meanwhile, the number of Princeton Marshall scholars has increased under Director of Fellowship Advising Dr. Deirdre Moloney, from three from 2008 to six from 2011. Harvard saw six in the first period and five in the second, and Yale saw six and then four. Moloney declined to provide the number of students who applied for University endorsement for the Rhodes and Marshall and the number who received endorsement.

Yet members of the advising office explained that the University’s performance in major programs may be influenced by institutional factors that are hard to overcome. While the initial impetus for the restructure was partly motivated by Rhodes and Marshall statistics, the current priorities of the fellowship advising program suggest they may not be the appropriate benchmark, and that the program should not be driven or evaluated based on quotas of winners.

A controversial firing

The University replaced Ordiway with Moloney as director of fellowship advising in April 2010. Under Moloney, fellowship advising is now part of the Office of International Programs, rather than the Office of the Dean of the College. In addition, advising has focused specifically on earlier and broader outreach to prospective applicants.

As Associate Dean of the College, Ordiway was one of 12 fellowship advisers specializing in 20 fellowships. He personally advised half of the fellowships, including the Gates, Marshall and Rhodes scholarships.

Meanwhile, the Office of International Programs, headed by Senior Associate Dean of the College Nancy Kanach, coordinated the Fulbright Scholarship application process, the Ito Foundation grants and a number of undergraduate scholarships for study abroad.

Many fellowship applicants who worked with Ordiway voiced disapproval at his firing, including 2007 Rhodes scholar Christian Sahner ’07, 2008 scholar Sherif Girgis ’08 and 2009 scholar Timothy Nunan ’09.

“Of course we weren’t privy to the reasons that they left but we had the impression that it was because of numbers in the previous few years and we thought if that was the reason, it was an unfair basis and we thought that, as much as anyone can be expected to, they did an excellent job of preparing us,” Girgis, who co-wrote an article an article with Sahner in Princeton Alumni Weekly in support of Ordiway and his fellowship advising team, said.

Ordiway did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Ordiway’s assistant, Traci Miller, declined to comment for this article.

As part of his advising process, Girgis said he met with Ordiway and Rhodes faculty advisor and classics professor Joshua Katz at the end of his junior year to begin preparing materials over the summer and to discuss his strengths and weaknesses going into the process. Throughout the summer, they provided Girgis feedback on his drafts, and in the fall helped him prepare recommendations for the endorsement process. Katz, a former columnist for The Daily Princetonian, declined to comment for this story.

Once he received the University endorsement, Girgis said “the process really ramped up” as he got closer readings of application materials and recommendations, specific tips and two mock interviews conducted by committees that included Princeton faculty as well as Ordiway and Katz.

Nunan — who also wrote an article supporting Ordiway — told the ‘Prince’ that though he was personally pleased with his advising experience, he knew some students were dissatisfied with Ordiway and Katz’s “tough love” approach and rigorous editing style.

“But because the actual interview was very critical and tough,” Nunan explained, “I think that having that sort of no-BS approach from the get-go was good because that was just the way it was going to be, you know, through this process.”

However, Nunan said the system could have improved by encouraging students with high grade point averages to seriously consider fellowships earlier on, as he received almost no information until junior year. He said the increased involvement of graduate students, faculty and past winners would have enhanced the process.

A change in direction

When Moloney was hired in April 2010, fellowship advising was moved from West College to OIP, effectively unifying all fellowship advising under one program.

“The idea of bringing fellowships here was that a lot of them are international. We already had a lot of connections with our Oxford exchanges and with other kinds of international programs,” Kanach said.

While Ordiway, as Associate Dean of the College, also oversaw the Freshman Scholars Institute and other programs, Moloney serves specifically as Director of Fellowship Advising. Kanach said Moloney’s role is the first position fully dedicated only to fellowships at Princeton.

The University also changed key faculty advisers for the Rhodes, Marshall and Gates scholarships, replacing Katz (who went on sabbatical in the 2010-11 academic year) with politics professor Alan Ryan as Rhodes faculty advisor and replacing classics professor Constanze Guthenke with politics professor Melissa Lane as Marshall faculty advisor. Both Ryan and Lane have extensive previous experience in the UK. The office also added another Marshall and Rhodes faculty advisor.

2012 Goldwater Scholar and current postgraduate fellowship applicant Gene Katsevich ’14 noted Moloney’s “active role” in the application process. Additionally, 2014 Rhodes Scholar Adam Mastroianni ’14 said she “really does everything, and what she doesn’t do, she can connect you to someone else.”

While much of the application process remains the same under Moloney, the fellowship advising program has undertaken efforts to reach out to students earlier and increase the diversity of fellowship applicants. Specifically, Moloney was tasked with increasing the number of female applicants and broadening awareness of the fellowship program, she said.

Reaching out

Moloney reaches out to students as early as their sophomore years and then hosts a series of information sessions for juniors in February. Candidates meet with Moloney at least twice before the end of their junior spring if they are serious about applying for fellowships, she said.

The outreach efforts include increasing avenues of communication, including a fellowship advising website developed by OIP, a Blackboard group and social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Moloney also cited the priority of demystifying the process to make it less intimidating to students.

Victoria Solomon ’13, a 2013 Marshall Scholar, said Moloney encouraged her to apply despite initial doubts about her qualifications. “In my case, I was nervous to apply because like many Princeton students, I had suffered a serious hit to my confidence from attending Princeton. [...] So part of what she did was just build up my confidence and help me to realize that, like, yes, I was a worthy candidate,” she explained.

Emphasis on diversity

Gender disparities may be a broader issue in scholarship selection committees, according to Wilson School visiting professor Nannerl Keohane, who served as chair of the 2009 Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership and acts on the Marshall Scholarship screening committee.

“If interviews give very significant weight to self-confidence and presentation of self, one of the things we discovered in the Steering Committee on Undergraduate Women’s Leadership is that this is an area where men are more likely to do better than women,” Keohane said, adding that the current advising process seeks to address this by making sure women think through their answers and prepare to present themselves directly and strongly.

While the actual numbers of male and female winners each year vary significantly, Lane said that in the past few years there had been a roughly equal number of women and men who applied, were endorsed by the University and were ultimately selected for interviews. Moloney said gender balance has also improved among fellowship winners, especially for Fulbright candidates.

While the University has made efforts to encourage female students to apply to fellowships, Ryan noted that it could be difficult to start women on leadership tracks early enough in their Princeton careers.

“It is a slightly tricky exercise because what a lot of this stuff — things like the Rhodes and Marshall — are looking for is qualities of leadership, and if women are hesitant about chucking themselves into student government four weeks after arriving on campus, it’s quite hard then to pick it all up later,” Ryan said.

When Solomon, an electrical engineering major, was applying for fellowships, she said Moloney helped her capitalize on her strengths as a female engineer.

“I might not have known to sort of capture that angle of being the female engineer, as opposed to just being an engineer, and so she was very astute in recognizing that, and actually even in convincing me about why it is truly important to be decidedly female as an engineer,” Solomon said.

Besides addressing gender disparity, efforts have also been made to make the whole fellowship application process more inclusive, according to Lane.

“That includes people from a wide range of subjects, a good gender balance and geographic diversity, so I think that, in the outreach to everyone, we’re conscious of trying to make a very inclusive process in general,” Lane said.

Moloney currently brings in minority applicants by emailing and attending meetings with groups that contain students of varying backgrounds, she noted.

Some of the changes came from sources other than formal fellowship advising. 2012 Rhodes scholar Elizabeth Butterworth ’12 established a peer mentoring system between students interested in UK fellowships and recent fellowship winners.

“Everyone was really great about reaching out and making sure that they were connecting and consistently available,” Butterworth explained.

Moloney noted an increase in the number of applicants throughout her tenure, attributing the uptick to the outreach efforts of the Office of Fellowship Advising, faculty, staff, administrators and past applicants. However, Moloney said she could not provide exact numbers of University students who applied for the fellowships, as many do not require institutional endorsement.

“When I see a student, often that student has gotten an email from me, but one of those students, or someone in Turkey who’s a friend or an acquaintance, has also urged them to see me, so that sort of thing is sort of a snowball effect of lots of people telling them that they should be considering a fellowship,” she said.

‘The oddity’ of Princeton

Despite the changes instituted by the restructure of the advising program, the numbers of  University Rhodes and Marshall winners have not improved significantly. Since Moloney took over fellowship advising in 2010, the University has had 14 Rhodes and Marshall scholars, while Harvard has had 25 and Yale 22.

However, Lane suggested that direct comparisons among the universities may not be appropriate because of the different student body sizes and demographics, while Ryan noted that the three universities have different structures.

Although she did not have statistics on Harvard or Yale, Lane noted that Princeton’s class is significantly concentrated in the northeast, so that the majority of Rhodes and Marshall applicants are in the same region and are thus competing for the same few spots. Harvard and, to a lesser extent, Yale, also have larger student bodies and thus statistically should generate more winners regardless of other differences.

Lane also noted that it was inappropriate to have target numbers of Marshall or Rhodes winners since applicants need to have particular reasons for wanting to study in the UK.

“Our goal is to make sure that everyone who might potentially have an interest in doing that is supported through the process and gives it their best shot, so of course we are delighted that the more people that win, the better. But there wouldn’t be any point in having a target, if there aren’t students that have that interest,” Lane said.

Ryan also noted structural differences between Princeton and peer institutions that are less favorable to fellowship applicants.

“I think here it’s harder to make it work and that’s because of the oddity of the Princeton sort of organization of social life, compared to the sort of Harvard-Yale picture,” Ryan said.

While Harvard’s residential house system and Yale’s college system have attached faculty members, allowing students to really get to know professors who can write recommendation letters, Ryan said. Princeton’s eating club system makes it more difficult for students to think of professors they are close to who are also senior enough to carry weight with the Rhodes and Marshall selection committees.

Although Ryan noted that this is partly counteracted by junior paper and senior thesis advisors, it is less likely that particular faculty members will encourage students to apply and offer to write recommendation letters, a process that is facilitated by the Harvard house system.

In their 2009 PAW article, Girgis and Sahner also noted that some other universities had large, well-organized fellowship programs with multiple employees who worked with underclassmen. Although the University has somewhat expanded advising, the system is still relatively small and works primarily with upperclassmen.

However, Girgis noted that there are also costs associated with increased focus on fellowships at an earlier stage in students’ academic careers. While earlier support would make it easier for students to organize, cultivate useful connections and shore up weaknesses, it could also lead students to specialize early on and thus miss out on some of the opportunities associated with a liberal arts education.

“It sets you up to a very particular and improbable goal so for likely disappointment, and it might warp your experiences in college that makes it too instrumental to specific, concrete goals that makes it less about a liberal arts education,” Girgis told the ‘Prince.’

Going forward

The OIP is interviewing candidates for a new Assistant Director of Fellowship Advising position this year, according to Moloney. The new employee will work mainly on the Fulbright, Truman and Goldwater fellowships, and will help systematically reach out to students earlier.

Besides addressing gender disparities, the program will also aim to include a more diverse population socioeconomically, racially and ethnically, “to basically make sure that we’re getting a really good representation of Princeton students,” Moloney said.

Increased outreach may also include more collaboration with residential colleges and faculty to contact students who might be interested at an earlier stage in their academic careers, Moloney said. The peer-mentoring system established by Butterworth will also be expanded.

Ryan noted that a four-year residential college system provides a means for faculty to be more closely associated with students in their junior and senior years, but he noted that this was a slow process.

“The notion of certain people cheerfully hiking into their res college in the hope of meeting some professor or another is a fairly uphill struggle,” Ryan said.

Nonetheless, Ryan noted that the University is making progress in this direction. For example, when the University writes letters of endorsement, the dean of the student’s residential college — who has followed the student’s progress — signs off on the letter.

“I think it has made a difference,” Ryan said. “I think eventually it might make more.”

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