Peer Scholarship Advice

The official blog of the Charles Center Peer Scholarship Advisors

Category: Udall

Udall Awardee Profile: Talia Schmitt

Congratulations to Talia Schmitt for receiving the Udall Scholarship! Here are some of her thoughts about Udall and its application process:


What motivated you to apply for a Udall Scholarship?

I wanted the opportunity to connect with college students from around the nation to have meaningful, productive discussions about solutions to our great environmental problems. Additionally, Udall provides a scholarship to help fund my studies, and the application process has allowed me to reflect on my projects.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

I chose recommenders who could each speak about a different aspect of my skillset. For example, I chose one professor, one community mentor and one former boss. I chose recommenders who could both speak to specific tasks and projects I worked on, as well as speak about me as a person.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

Through the application process, I learned how to synthesize my projects and passions into an organized narrative, and I learned how to better manage my time when writing applications. I realized which of my projects I value most, and the accomplishments and flaws of each project. I learned how I best edit my essays (outline, digital draft, written corrections on print out, typed second draft, etc). Lastly, I learned that it is important to find a really good student or teacher mentor who can offer you constructive criticism on your drafts (shout out to former Udall Scholar Rachel Merriman- Goldring!).

What are you most proud of in your application?

In one of my essays. I wrote about the process of co-founding the environmental education organization Eco-Schools Leadership Initiative (ESLI). This idea that started as a high school dream has grown into a program at six high school and colleges around Virginia. Older students visit elementary schools to teach kids about the environment. It is such a thrill to create a classroom space for creativity, collaboration and the pursuit of environmental solutions. I am excited to be part of a team dedicated to this mission.

If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?

I would use my time more effectively from the beginning. I would solidify the big picture message before I looked at less substantive changes (grammar, punctuation).

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Udall applicants?

Never forget about the big picture. Write your application as though you are choosing the Udall Scholars. What about yourself and your project make you stand out? Now’s your chance to let the world know about your really cool project. What is it that you need to tell them? Don’t undersell yourself, because you are great.

Start your application early and answer each question with a few bullet points. Go back the next day, and add a few more points. Form sentences. Only at the end of the application should you go back through and revise for the small stuff like grammar and punctuation. Your time is valuable, and its better that you spend it improving your project than obsessing over your application, so focus on the big picture stuff and view every application as an opportunity to strengthen your story and reflect on your project.

Udall Scholarship Awardee Profile: Mackenzie Neal

Congratulations to Udall Scholarship awardee Mackenzie Neal! Here are some of her thoughts about Udall and its application process:


What motivated you to apply for a Udall Scholarship?

Last year I had the opportunity to participate in both the Native American Political Leadership Program at the George Washington University and the Washington Internships for Native Students Program at American University. Each experience allowed me to study tribal policy and self-determination practices while interning full-time in Washington, D.C. This introduction to Federal Indian policy transformed the way I view tribal nations and the Federal-Tribal relationship, and these programs helped me realize that I can combine my academic interest in international affairs with my passion for tribal policy by pursuing a career in tribal consultation, indigenous human rights, and environmental justice. The Udall Scholarship has an extensive alumni network that spans numerous agencies and academic disciplines, and I was eager to try to enter that community and meet individuals just as passionate about tribal politics and environmentalism as I am.

How and why did you choose your recommenders, and what is your relationship with them like?

Undergraduates at William & Mary are really lucky that our professors are typically generous with their time and energy — two of my recommenders were professors from the Government and International Relations Departments, and they helped me tremendously during the application process – especially during crunch time! My first letter came from my Major Adviser, and because he has helped me with applications and scholarships in the past, he was very familiar with my work-ethic and my extracurricular activities. My second letter came from a professor I’ve had for multiple classes who understands my academic strengths and my interest in tribal policy. Finally, my last recommendation came from my summer internship advisor at the State Department. She was my mentor for three months, and I think she knew my personality and passion for tribal affairs better than anyone else. Overall, these three recommenders all had some previous knowledge of my campus activities and my abilities, and I think they were able to write a more personalized letter than if I had just handed my resume to a professor I barely knew.

What did you realize about yourself throughout this process?

The application process required quite a bit of writing, reflecting, and refining. I spent a majority of that time endeavoring to understand how I could tie my academics, aspirations, and personal characteristics together into a coherent narrative. The editing process in particular helped me see how my individual experiences have shaped my life, my identity, and the stories I have to tell. I think that realization, coupled with the practice in articulating these ideas, was the most valuable takeaway from the process.

What are you most proud of in your application?

In one of my essays, I wrote about my efforts to revitalize the American Indian Student Association (AISA) at William & Mary, and when I look back at all of our work, I can’t help but smile. We’ve created an Annual Powwow that brings indigenous peoples from across the East Coast to campus, we’ve run dozens of workshops, debates, and discussions on indigenous issues, and we’ve built a diverse coalition of Native and non-Native students alike. I’m so proud of AISA and its students, and I’m glad I was able to share in some of those accomplishments.

If you could do it all again, what would you change about the process?

If I could rewind a few months, I would have started writing my essays earlier! It’s difficult to create polished work in just a few nights. I would also have clearly emphasized the deadline to my recommenders to prevent any confusion.

What is the most important piece of advice you would give to future Udall applicants?

Don’t try to write this application (especially the Udall essay) like a school assignment — really dig deep and try to make emotional, personal connections that reveal your personality and values. Also, take full advantage of the Charles Center’s resources – the Peer Scholarship Advisers were life-savers when it came to editing and refining my essays. Finally, don’t forget to write thank-you notes to your recommenders!


Congratulations again to Mackenzie, and all of W&M’s other scholarship and fellowship awardees! As always, if you have any questions about Udall or other scholarships, don’t hesitate to visit Scholarship Search or come to the Charles to ask a PSA Monday through Friday from 9am to 5pm. Thanks for reading and good luck on your applications!