5 Lessons Learned from a Scholarship Application

I recently submitted an application for the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME) scholarship. I had previously applied as a freshman at Boise State but didn’t get the award. There’s only one winner per state of a $1,000 scholarship, a membership, and a tour of a local military base and its engineering assets.

This go-around, I’m a much more developed writer and researcher. I wanted to share a few things I learned throughout the process.

Cross-Pollination

I have always been a huge advocate of grouping. Similar to the idea of temptation bundling (see Freakonomics podcast episode “When Willpower Isn’t Enough“), I try to group tasks to minimize time spent on tasks. Some examples I’ve utilized are:

  • Practicing my language skills with the Duolingo app while I feed my baby
  • Reading while on the exercise bike at the gym
  • Listening to a podcast while I walk to school
  • Catch up on my YouTube “Watch Later” list while cleaning the house
  • Pairing Netflix documentaries and folding laundry

You can see how each task on its own would take a significant amount of time, but by effectively pairing two tasks, I can get twice as much done.

This semester, I established a relationship with Dr. Doug Reynolds—a petroleum and energy economist and professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks—and used his expertise as a reference in three different sectors: my health economics course, my professional and technical writing course, and the SAME scholarship. I was allowed to choose my topic for a term paper in my econ course (health implications of nuclear energy) and the subject of a final group project for the writing class (survey of energy usage in the US), which was the perfect setup to tie in my engineering background. My health econ professor gave me one of Dr. Reynolds’s books, which led to me reaching out. When the scholarship came along and discussed the implementation of the Smart Grid and microgrid systems in the US, I knew I’d be able to pick his brain.

I kept my questions concise and to the point so as to respect his time. It was a great success! I earned an A in both courses and am awaiting the results of the scholarship.

Writing

Taking the professional and technical writing class was literally just for fun. As a freshman at Boise State, I decided I wanted to pursue a certificate in technical communication. When I transferred to ISU, that option wasn’t available. I jumped at the chance to take the class solely because I was interested, even though it bumped me to 21 credits for the semester (I originally tried to take 26, but the school decided that was too much. Oh well…).

While I wrote out the entire essay, it is absolutely critical to have a fresh pair of eyes read it over. I had three different proofreaders take a look!

Another bonus to the essay was the term “literature review”, which Wikipedia defines as:

“a text of a scholarly paper, which includes the current knowledge including substantive findings, as well as theoretical and methodological contributions to a particular topic. Literature reviews are secondary sources, and do not report new or original experimental work”

I’ve always wanted to get my feet wet in research, but have never been an expert. This might open a door to publish an article as a collection and review of other sources out there! I’m excited to pursue this.

Research

This was a wildly fun essay. As mentioned before, I legitimately love to write. What I learned most from this scholarship application, however, is that I also love to research. I previously worked for Canvas Strategy as a content marketing manager, ghostwriting articles for companies. It was a really fun job and introduced me to learning how to research. This essay, however, sealed the deal!

I printed and read between 10-20 articles for what was only a three-page essay! I highlighted, took notes, cross-referenced, then organized my structure on scrap pieces of paper. I’m very visual. Momentum built as it all pieced together, and I was very pleased with my final work.

Résumé

As part of this process, I had to account for my involvement in extracurriculars. I polished my résumé and included a copy on top of the requested document.

When I was applying to the Virginia Military Institute, their application had certain fields you had to fill in, but I also called and asked if I could send them a résumé in the mail to be considered with my application. They said yes, and ultimately, I was accepted. I’ve found that maintaining a current copy of my résumé has opened doors where speed was key. It’s not that difficult either. I check it a few times throughout the semester, but especially after finals.

References

The last part of the application was a letter of recommendation. Luckily, I know my department chair really well, and she provided the necessary recommendation. It did, however, fall during finals week, so I was really worried she’d be too busy. This prompted me to make a mental note for next time: ask for the letter of recommendation as soon as I open an application. I had saved the scholarship to my desktop for later and didn’t open it until I was ready to start applying. I could have saved myself a lot of worrying had I opened it, skimmed through it, and sent a request for that letter ASAP!

Summary

The takeaways from this application in addition to the fun brought on by the assignment itself definitely made the process worthwhile, regardless of the result. I learned about using my sources to their maximum potential, saving me lots of time; reiterated my love of writing in taking on this challenging paper; discovered literature reviews, allowing me to, in fact, get involved in research now, rather than waiting until I’m an expert; updated my résumé to reflect my most current undertakings; and lastly, I realized the importance of honoring others time and staying on top of task management.

If you want to read my three-page paper, you can find it here: Smart Grid and Microgrids: Cost-Effective Solutions for American Energy?

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