2009 Udall Scholar
Sam is majoring in Forestry, in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources. An avid environmentalist, Sam was president of SPEAK - Students Promoting Environmental Action in Knoxville - during the 2008-2009 school year, is a member of Society of American Foresters. Sam was also a member of the UT Cycling Team before leaving this past summer for New Zealand where he is studying abroad at Massey University for his senior year. After graduation in May 2010, Sam plans to enter the Peace Corps before he attends graduate school and ultimately begins his career in restorative forestry.
Sam describes his experience applying for the Udall and offers advice for future UT applicants:
"I first heard about the Udall Scholarship though an announcement at a SPEAK meeting my sophomore year. I attended the info session intent on submitting an application. However, I let it slip on my priorities list, and the deadline came and went. The application was intimidating to me, and I just felt like I would not be competitive. Although an extra year of experiences did help strengthen this year’s application, I believe that completing the application last year would have helped me. For the essay, you must have researched some about Congressman Udall’s life and accomplishments. This process takes time, and be sure you have the best speech or legislation that you can address in your essay. If you are considering applying for this scholarship as a sophomore (and feel you have the time it requires), I would recommend you apply regardless of how competitive you believe your application will be. The experience with the essay and the application itself will greatly help you out if you apply again as a junior. I went back to the next year’s interest meeting and made a pact with a good friend of mine that we would apply for the scholarship.
The application can be intimidating, and I went through around four drafts of the essay and application. As an avid procrastinator, I was especially stressed for the first round of selection that the [Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships] does on the campus level. The application for this round of selection is essentially the main application and takes significant thought and self editing. Don’t make the same mistake I did; treat your application like it is the final from the first round so you don’t have to edit your responses too heavily if you are selected to send your application to the Udall Foundation. The ONSF assistant director, Rebekah Page, worked with me directly on my application. It was irreplaceably helpful to have drafts edited by someone in the ONSF, so absolutely give yourself enough time to bounce drafts back and forth before deadlines.
The questions are very direct, so be specific about what a question is asking. They generally ask about what serviced-based experiences you’ve had and how you’ve demonstrated commitment to your field. I was very fortunate because my commitment to SPEAK provided lots of experience I could draw from as well as developing a solid relationship with my primary references. If you considering applying for the Udall at any point it would always be in your favor to be involved with extracurricular environmental work in addition to field work in your classes. If you are really a go-getter, it would be in the environment’s favor, too!
Be sure to discuss the purpose of the Udall with your references, as there are different attributes about the applicant they are supposed to address. Your references should be familiar with your work, and ideally you’ve worked for or with them at some point so they know you on a personal level. I had volunteer experience for one of my professors and was able to use that experience in the application as well as having that professor as a reference. A really solid reference means building a relationship with that person beforehand.
I honestly did not expect to be selected as a scholar. I just did the best I could on my application and tried to learn what I could from the whole experience. Because I went through the effort to apply, I now can’t wait to attend the scholar’s weekend this August and will be able to learn and build on this experience for the rest of my life."
After attending the 2009 Udall Scholars Orientation in Tuscon, Arizona this August, Sam describes the experience and offers future applicants further advice:
"As Orientation approached, I had to keep up with the deadlines for the various things that the scholarship committee required. You've got to be sure you get all of your information in on time for press releases, travel arrangements, payment of the scholarship, etc. I had already started school in New Zealand for my study abroad and had to travel all the way back to the States to make it to Orientation. From my doorstep to Orientation and back, I calculated 53.5 hours of travel by bus, plane, or car (travel, not layovers). All of it was worth it because of how awesome Orientation was.
After all of my hours of travel I finally made it to the Westward Look Resort, where Orientation is held every year. It is a very beautiful place, and I had never been to the American Southwest before this trip. I am an ecology nerd and really enjoyed being in the desert. From the get-go, I was meeting other Scholars and alumni. The scholarship is managed by some incredible people at the Udall foundation, and many hours of work are done to get all of the Scholars there. Make sure you thank them! Meeting the other Scholars is one of the most important things about Orientation, and undoubtedly I will come across other Udalls from my class in my professional and personal life. Every (delicious) meal you sit with new people, and every one of the 79 other Scholars is a chance for a new friend or professional contact. I have attended multiple professional conferences through my undergraduate, but this particular experience really opened my eyes to the fact that I will not be a student for the rest of my life and networking done now means colleagues and strong relationships in the future. I met some incredible people there, and if you are awarded the Udall be sure to attend Orientation with as positive an outlook as you can muster. Be a good listener, challenge yourself to meet as many people as you can, and try to learn as much about yourself and how you fit into your chosen career path along with other aspiring professionals.
Orientation was all too short, but some highlights were the trip to the Desert Museum, the presentations by Scholar groups, and (of course) the other Scholars. The accommodation is astronomically more plush than your average interstate-side motel, but I still only grabbed a few hours of sleep every night. Jet-lagged as I was, I still had some incredibly rewarding conversations well after the schedule for the day had concluded. Be prepared for an unforgettable weekend.
Once you attend Orientation, and officially become a Udall Scholar, you are instantly plugged into a vibrant, active community of Scholars that are continually improving the network and growing as each year’s class are added. I’ve already had several job offers in my inbox that were sent out over the Scholar list serve, and at Orientation I heard time and time again that the benefits of becoming a Scholar extend well beyond the finical award. The money from the scholarship dramatically helped me in my study abroad experience, but I know that actually being a Udall Scholar will affect the rest of my career.
Work hard, build experience, complete the application (on time) and you may just be U.T.’s next Udall Scholar. I worked hard on my application, but I honestly did not expect to be awarded. It certainly has changed my life, just take the chance and maybe it can change yours."