GRAND FORKS -- One of North Dakota’s charms is the humility of its people. We learn not to boast about our individual achievements, preferring instead to recognize others. We highly value making time to volunteer at local charities. Strangers easily share friendly conversations about their days.
Maybe the weather here teaches us that no matter how important we may feel, we operate at the discretion of something larger and more powerful. In any event, North Dakota humility clearly leads residents to behave with a quiet, gentle and wonderful decorum in social engagement.
But in one key arena – the pursuit of national and international scholarships – it’s time for North Dakotans to get loud.
For North Dakota’s economy to diversify and our state to keep innovating, our state’s students must go out into the world and bring back to us what they have learned. And for those students to learn, grow and be recognized at the highest levels, they must put aside – temporarily – the quiet humility we taught them and start trumpeting their accomplishments, loudly.
The scholarships, fellowships and world-class opportunities that this can bring will make this brief show of pride worthwhile. Here’s how.
I teach students at the University of North Dakota how to be loud and proud in their application for nationally competitive scholarships. National scholarships provide high-performing students exceptional opportunities to experience learning and academic training at the highest levels. For example, the Truman Scholarship gives its scholars up to $30,000 for graduate study in public-service fields, plus access to a 10-week summer internship in Washington. The Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers scholarships for students to study, conduct research and/or teach English for a full academic year abroad.
North Dakotans are used to competing at the national level in sports such as hockey. And if we resolve to compete in academic arenas as well, we’ll find that exceptional opportunities await.
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But this is not an arena in which modesty serves. Scholarship judges on the national stage typically eye three selection markers: talent, leadership and creativity. Students must show a record of recognized work at a standard above their age mates. Students need to speak authoritatively to others to galvanize a common mission. And, students need to show a capacity to problem solve in ways that bring new and useful solutions.
All of these behaviors will draw the immediate engagement and sustained interest of national scholarship reviewers.
Teaching the humble to tout their accomplishments requires making them comfortable with making themselves the center of attention. They must feel comfortable talking about their exceptionality and its importance. They must show, proudly, their intensity. They must exude confidence.
In short, they must be comfortable being loud. Only loud students – students who have learned to project their academic voice – will be heard on the national stage. So for North Dakota students, most of whom are not used to this kind of assertiveness, applying for national scholarships is more than just an act of cataloging and writing about their achievements. It is a process of transforming the way they see themselves and the world, and engaging in it.
Importantly, these scholarships are not pipe dreams. UND just recognized the achievements of seven students who applied for, and won, competitive and prestigious national scholarships. These scholarships included the American Dream, Cobell, Critical Language Scholarship, Fulbright, National Institutes of Health’s College Summer Opportunities to Advance Research (C-SOAR), National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU), and Udall scholarships.
The scholarship winners have traveled across the country and around the world. Their scholarships gave them the chance to observe problem solving, meet new mentors, and experience situations that they could not have learned here at home.
They’ll now bring back the ability to help North Dakota dream big and achieve bigger as we face our challenges over the next century.
North Dakota needs more of these students. We can get them if we teach our young people to be loud and proud. They do not need to be rude and certainly should not be elitist, but they must be willing to share their amazing ideas and their already exceptional academic skills. And we need to support them when they do.
Yee Han Chu is academic support and fellowship opportunities coordinator at the University of North Dakota and president of the North Dakota Association for Gifted Children.