Rider University

Posted on June 1, 2009

Writing Scholarship Essays Workshop

Rider University awards a large number of Newcombe Scholarships each year. In 2008-09, forty-seven Mature Students received scholarships averaging $1,682; nearly half of this amount was funded by the institution as a match to its Newcombe grant. The Newcombe Foundation values Rider University’s commitment to Mature Students, which is evident through its outreach and responsiveness to them.

Since 1981, the Newcombe Scholarship Program at the College of Continuing Studies at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., has been a haven for non-traditional students returning to undergraduate education. Rider’s commitment to career-focused adult learners extends back to its Civil War-era origins, when the institution trained men and women for professions in business. Today, College of Continuing Studies students find a supportive, academically challenging environment in which to learn, led by a supportive administration constantly alert for ways to bring students ever closer to their dream of an education.

One of the primary obstacles these students face is funding their studies and navigating the complex world of scholarship opportunities. Philanthropic organizations such as the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation offer grants that allow mature women to afford the intellectual, emotional and financial benefits they seek through a degree, but the myriad time demands of raising children, typically working full-time, caring for ailing family members and volunteering in their communities leave many of these women, already fully engaged in life, without the time to adequately research scholarship opportunities. Others are unsure about how to apply for them, or simply lack the confidence to believe they are worthy of a grant.

Rider University

Newcombe Scholars at Rider University gather at an April 2009 reception. Many of them were assisted by Rider’s Writing Scholarship Essays Workshop.

During the 2008-09 academic year, Rider debuted a program to help these students identify and apply for Newcombe Scholarships for Mature Women – and other related funding – with a focus on writing scholarship essays and positioning themselves as truly worthy recipients of these grants. The workshop, developed by Boris Vilic, dean of the College of Continuing Studies, and Karen Crowell, assistant dean of the College, is designed to provide a comprehensive strategy for applicants, from researching and identifying appropriate scholarship opportunities, to understanding sponsors’ criteria and goals, to finally pinpointing exactly what they hope to achieve through the funding. Once this framework is established, students are carefully escorted through the writing process, including tips to plan, write and revise their scholarship essays.

Vilic says the idea for the program was sparked by witnessing the positive impact all scholarships had on students – benefits that extended beyond the obvious financial boost. “It was more than just helping finance the pursuit of one’s college degree or alleviating financial pressures on students’ families,” recalled Vilic. “We saw that earning scholarships also seemed to provide the inspiration and instill that confidence to keep going when the road ahead is leading uphill.”

When Vilic and Crowell noticed that a number of College of Continuing Education students had successfully combined multiple sources of scholarship funding, they decided to provide a mechanism for more students to learn how to follow that lead. Their determination was only accelerated by the downward turn in the economy.

“That made creating this program our priority,” Vilic said. “It was reflective of our mission to provide holistic support for Rider’s adult learners.”

To present the material for the workshop, The College of Continuing Studies turned to Dr. Mary Morse, associate professor of English at Rider, who immediately felt she had a personal stake in the project. “I hadn’t realized this need existed, but as soon as I heard about it, I wanted to be involved,” said Morse, who presents the workshop twice in the fall and twice in the spring. “As a woman who earned my M.A. and Ph.D. while working as a freelance writer/editor and mother of two young children, I understand the issues non-traditional female students must deal with in their everyday lives.”

Morse asks the students in the workshop to play close attention to the essay instructions corresponding to the scholarship applications and then apply their own unique circumstances in a way that sets them apart. It sounds simple, but Morse says that cultural constructs and other barriers sometimes prevent women from recognizing their actual worth in these communications to selection committees.

“Women are unaccustomed to putting themselves first. Whether they work inside or outside of the home, they tend to downplay their accomplishments,” Morse said. “A woman who is president of the PTA at her child’s school does not always perceive that her experience in organizational and fundraising abilities will translate into desirable workplace skills.”

Dr. Morse teaches the students how to clearly articulate their goals of starting or changing careers, re-entering the workforce, qualifying for a promotion, supporting themselves or their families, or simply achieving a better balance of family and work. The students, already enrolled at Rider, bring the aptitude and determination to excel, but many require this revealing look into the mirror for self-actualization.

“Women who enter or return to school as non-traditional students already demonstrate initiative and perseverance, but few recognize these qualities in themselves,” Morse explained. “My goal is to help these women write scholarship essays that show how their life experiences have shaped and influenced them in their academic studies and their career goals. I want to help them present themselves as the strong role models they really are.”

Please visit the College of Continuing Studies on the Rider University Web site for more information about its programs for non-traditional students.