AMS Scholars Program Revamped

Natalie Gaugh

Colgate’s Alumni Memorial Scholar (AMS) program has recently undergone changes. The scholars are still being offered the traditional $5,000 fellowship — however, the parameters of what the students can do with that money have become stricter. Supposedly, instead of allowing members of AMS to travel anywhere in the world to pursue a project of their design, scholars will now be guided toward pre-approved programs, preferably in the United States. Also, they will no longer be encouraged to schedule their projects for spring break.

The AMS program has a long history at Colgate, starting out as the Alumni Memorial War Scholars, with 13 regional and 13 national awardees. Now, the title of AMS is awarded to the top 200 accepted Colgate applicants each year.

The change was initiated because all the grants were not actually being used.

“[The students] were so busy, they didn’t have the opportunity to come up with ideas for their fellowship,” Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Special Assistant to the Vice President and Dean of the College and AMS Program Coordinator Raj Bellani said. “This [change] is not meant to rescind, but to give more options.”

As Bellani explained, sending students abroad was more challenging as safety became a larger issue.

“A good research project takes time,” Bellani said, explaining why spring break is not ideal for most research scenarios. Bellani feels the program is more focused now, and is excited to see “good research coming about.”

“These kinds of things are really unique and different,” he said. “We want students to do their best, and build upon their intellectual ability…We want AMS to be the crown jewel of Colgate.”

AMS students are expected to write a one to two page proposal, verifying that their independent research project will be related to an academic field of interest. Bellani reports that he’s there to help them work through the process.

“It’s not a free ride — it’s a unique opportunity and we [the faculty reviewing committee] want the students to expand their horizons.” Those who “weren’t sure how to do what they wanted” can now be given more guidance.

“Students can do international research projects, like Cross-Cultural Solutions, which does work with the UN,” Bellani said. One AMS group will be going on a 10-day independent research to Uganda in January, led by Assistant Professor of Geography Peter Scull and Associate Professor of Biology Frank Frey.

Alumni Memorial Scholar junior Lindsay Ward is very enthused about the future of her fellowship. She plans to pursue her project in the UK with focuses relevant to her creative writing minor.

“It’s more of an old-style project,” Ward said. She feels that it was approved because it was “well-planned” and she plans to “bring information back into the community and write [about it] in The Maroon-News.”

She talked to Bellani about her plan, and mentioned that there were meetings to help junior and senior AMS students make their applications as strong as possible.

“Whatever your idea is,” Ward said, “It will go through a screening process. They’re still welcoming to ideas. It just takes work.”

She thinks that a project is more likely to be approved if a person has a plan that will “impact the Colgate community in a positive way,” and if it can only be pursued in a certain location. When asked about the new changes, she says she “can understand where they’re coming from” and sees how they want to “keep it on an educational standpoint.” Her fellowship trip will be her first time in Europe.

However, AMS senior Jessi Bauer had a more stressful time planning her fellowship project. She hopes to travel to Morocco over winter break to pursue volunteer work and academic study with Cross-Cultural Solutions, and feels that because programs are often pre-existing, they’re “easier to get approved.” Her overall experience, however, was “a lot more difficult than it should have been.”

Bauer had had to rewrite her application once because she was advised to focus on the academic aspect of her project and the review board wanted to hear more about her volunteerism goals. However, she says she didn’t know for the majority of the time beforehand exactly what she wanted to use her fellowship for. The process “seemed so difficult, I didn’t want to try,” Bauer said. She feels that watching the presentations from previous projects offered her little guidance: “it doesn’t help a person with their own interests.”

Bauer speaks French, so she’s considering using this experience to help her write a French thesis, and feels that if other projects are not related to a major they’ll be less likely to be approved. She’s also concerned that because of program or time constraints people may have to highlight academic aspects that they aren’t the most interested in.

People still get their projects, but “it’s a heart attack and a half in the process,” Bauer concludes. “Hopefully it’s moving in a more organized direction, not necessarily restrictive.”