The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Top-tier awards on the rise at Ohio State

The past 10 years have seen steady gains in the number of Buckeyes earning competitive awards in academia.

While the resume of Ilhan Dahir, Ohio State’s newest Rhodes Scholar, is jaw-dropping with the breadth and richness of experiences she had as an undergraduate, she is among many outstanding students Ohio State has attracted and supported over the past decade as they work to realize their potential as agents of change.

In 2005, the university began dedicating resources in earnest to helping students prepare for and apply for highly competitive fellowships. The past 10 years have seen steady gains in the number of Buckeyes earning top-tier awards.

Prior to 2005, Ohio State had four Rhodes Scholars, with the two most recent beginning their studies in 1986 and 1930. In the past decade, the university has celebrated two Rhodes Scholars and an additional five national Rhodes finalists.

Ohio State has had six Churchill Scholars, five of whom were named in the past five years.

And for the third year in a row, the university was named in 2015 to the national list of Top Producing Fulbright Institutions, ranking
16th among research institutions. Seven undergraduates were selected for Fulbrights from 1995 to 2005. The following decade, the number increased to 50 — a gain of 614 percent.

The DAAD Research Internship in Science and Engineering (RISE) program is considered a feeder system for students in STEM fields who go on to compete for national awards such as Fulbrights, Churchills and Goldwaters. For the third year in a row, Ohio State had more students selected for RISE than any other school in North America.

More important than the awards is the network these scholars are able to access afterward, explains Linn Van Woerkom, associate vice provost and director of University Honors & Scholars.

“They become part of a small group of people around this world who will have a real impact on this planet,” he says. “At Ohio State, we have a long tradition of being overly modest, and we’ve worked very hard in the last 10 years to change students’ mindsets from ‘What do you want to be?’ to ‘Who do you want to be?’”

The University Fellowship Office was created in 2011 to serve all students and raise awareness across campus of the opportunities post-graduate scholarships offer. Since its establishment, applications have risen 210 percent. And today, nearly one in every four distinguished awards goes to undergrads not enrolled in the rigorous University Honors & Scholars program.

“Our honors students are incredibly competitive, and they have always tended to be the winners,” Van Woerkom says. “But what’s happened over time is that the general student population has shown itself to be competitive in winning top-tier awards. That speaks to the quality of the entire undergraduate population at Ohio State right now.”

Success can’t be measured solely on the number of awards won, adds fellowship manager Dana Kuchem. The competition process aids in students’ personal development, helping them clarify their goals and values, enhance their writing skills and increase their engagement with faculty. Fellowship advising involves meaningful conversations about post-graduate plans and goals.

“There’s great value in thinking, ‘How do I achieve the next level of things I want to achieve?’” Van Woerkom says. “For someone as forward-thinking as Ilhan, a Rhodes or a Fulbright gives her the resources she will need to help international communities in an impactful way.”

Chart: Number of students receiving awards

Ohio State has seen a 511 percent increase in the number of students receiving awards through prestigious scholarship programs such as the Rhodes, Churchill, Marshall and Fulbright in the past 15 years.