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.