Fixing the AMS Experience

Elias Shakkour

Armenia is one of the last places anyone would expect me to have spent my winter break, but that is exactly where I was. For three weeks in one of the world’s most troubled yet resilient countries, I enjoyed effusive local hospitality, observed the effects of decades of Soviet rule and learned to communicate using pantomime and a few infantile utterances in the local language. In a country where unemployment and poverty figures are staggering and where the economy is still recovering from a brutal war it faced last decade and suffering the effects of two closed borders, I acquired a renewed sense of perseverance and came to appreciate so many of the amenities I have come to take for granted.

I was in Armenia on a research fellowship that I received as part of Colgate’s Alumni Memorial Scholar program. The goal of the program is to encourage innovation, independent thinking and the cultivation of academic interests by offering students the opportunity to conduct research anywhere in the world on a topic that interests them. I wanted to explore the commemoration and perception of the Armenian genocide in the modern republic of Armenia. Driven by a desire to more fully comprehend one of the most catastrophic tragedies of the twentieth century, I felt that this project would help me intellectually and contribute if but modestly to paying tribute to the millions of lives who fell victim to that devastating massacre.

The Alumni Memorial Scholar (AMS) program is one many Colgate students never hear about. Every year, the Office of Admission at Colgate names about 10 percent of the applicants accepted for the upcoming year Alumni Memorial Scholars, informing them of this exciting opportunity that will be theirs to take advantage of should they decide to enroll at Colgate. The amount of $5000 and the flexibility of the requirements (the topic need only be educational, not necessarily related to the student’s major field) make the offer especially attractive.

But there are aspects of the program that even AMS students are not aware of before they come to Colgate: namely, realizing an AMS project is not as easy as it sounds. For starters, one must apply for a fellowship, which may or may not be approved. The application must consist of a detailed proposal describing the intended project, an itinerary if applicable, and a budget request. Also, there are deadlines to meet, and the student may not receive the full amount of $5000 if he does not present a convincing budget plan.

Proposals are often turned down due to lack of funds. What the Office of Admission does not tell prospective AMS students is that there is a limited amount of money that can be spent on these fellowships every semester. Last year the situation was particularly chaotic as the Office of Admission received a number of proposals for over twice the amount of money that was available. As such, perfectly sound proposals had to be turned down.

That the program has a rigid system – and unfortunately, limitations – is to be expected. Nevertheless, as an idealist I cannot come to terms with the idea that even one proposal should be rejected because of insufficient funds. It would appear to me that if the Office of Admission cannot guarantee that every legitimate proposal will be approved, it should not make the offer in the first place. While AMS students can complete their project any time during their four years at Colgate, there are usually many factors that end up dictating when a student can use the money – such that the possibility of postponement is hardly comforting. Perhaps the maximum amount offered can be reduced. I would find that a fair compromise if it could ensure the approval of all promising proposals.

Either way, this is something all AMS students should be aware of, so start planning your projects well in advance, and be prepared for the possibility of denial. And for all other students, take this as an example that there’s usually more to irresistible offers than meets the eye.