Mentor and Coach

Fulbright. Churchill. Gates. The names of these fellowships convey prestige, academic achievement, and the height of personal accomplishment. Let’s face it: they can be intimidating.

Who gets these awards, anyway?

Lots of Rutgers undergraduates, it turns out, with more students applying for fellowships each year, thanks to the efforts of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships and its director, Dr. Arthur D. Casciato.

You may not realize it, but you’re fellowship material.

That’s the message from Casciato, who is devoted to seeing more Rutgers undergraduates apply for fellowships each year. Since arriving at Rutgers–New Brunswick from the University of Pennsylvania in 2007, Casciato has helped over 800 students apply for fellowships to study at Cambridge and Oxford and travel everywhere from Colombia to Thailand. Rutgers won four Gates fellowships in his first year here—more than any other university in the nation (well, Rutgers tied with Harvard, actually)—and since then the university snagged its second-ever Churchill Scholarship, several Goldwater Scholarships, and more Fulbright grants than in any other year. Casciato’s office is on a roll, thanks to both his enthusiasm and his dedication in seeking out students to apply for fellowships.

STORIES TO TELL

“We have students who are just as good as the students at the Ivies,” says Casciato, “and Rutgers students have better stories to tell. There’s no lack of students to apply for fellowships.”

How do students learn about the opportunities? Casciato reaches out in a number of ways:

  • A letter from the university president seeks names of possible candidates from professors and researchers.
  • Casciato sparks interest by speaking to groups of undergraduates, from honors programs to student clubs.
  • Casciato draws on the criteria prized by fellowship committees to conduct his own search for candidates.
  • And with Rutgers’ successes, word-of-mouth is helping out the search for candidates.

Recent successes have included:

Casciato follows up with each student individually, typically initiating the conversation by email and then meeting with students one-on-one at his office in Old Queens on the College Avenue Campus.

HONEST TAKING OF STOCK

Art CasciatoCasciato thinks of himself as a coach or trainer for what is, realistically, a tough competition. But just as in sports, it’s not just about the winning. “It’s the trying that’s really important,” he says. “Students learn about themselves in this process. It’s a chance to take a deep breath and really do some honest taking of stock.”

I would highly recommend Art as a resource, especially to juniors and seniors. There are a lot of options for funding and experiences that most students don’t even know about.

Rutgers graduate Andrea Kennedy

Many Rutgers students, Casciato notes, don’t really know much about the opportunities for fellowships, whether it’s a Fulbright grant to travel to Bulgaria or Indonesia or a Churchill Scholarship for graduate study at the University of Cambridge in England. Even if students don’t win a fellowship, applying for them—and thinking through the options—can open up new possibilities for students.

“Art is a fantastic guy, amazing mentor, and truly bright man,” says Andrea Kennedy, a 2010 graduate (with a double major in history and English) who applied for the Fulbright and Luce awards. “I didn’t get either, but the process of applying and interviewing taught me a lot.”

“You can’t expect to win,” Casciato notes, “but you can hope to. If you try, you might win, and this is worth it in and of itself.”

Just don’t pay too much attention to the biographies of previous fellowship winners, he cautions students. Like the names of fellowships, those bios can be intimidating. “If you win,” he says, “you’re going to look like that, too.”