LSU can boast a track record of prestigious academic achievement on par with the best schools in the nation, and the proof is in the numbers. Since 2005, LSU has had twelve Goldwater Scholars, five Truman Scholars, two Udall Scholars, two Soros Fellows, six finalists for Marshall and Rhodes Scholarships, nine students named to the USA-Today All-USA College Academic teams, and thirteen National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows.
In 2008, LSU was one of only two universities in the nation to produce the combination of a Truman Scholar, four Goldwater Scholars and a USA Today All-USA College Academic First Team member.
Behind the scenes, Dr. Drew Lamonica Arms has worked diligently to help make that happen.
Since its foundation in 2005, Arms has served as Director of the Honors College Office of Fellowship Advising, which was created to advise current students and recent graduates from all colleges at LSU as they apply for national and international fellowships.
A former LSU Honors graduate and Rhodes Scholar, Arms designed the Office of Fellowship Advising alongside Honors College Dean Nancy Clark by studying how other universities prepared their students for fellowship competitions.
“We sat down and began to look at what other universities were doing in terms of fellowship advising — they had whole offices and teams of people devoted solely to it,” she said. “I was also serving on Rhodes selection committees, and I was seeing from that side of the process how coached the applicants were, … and I had been through the process myself.”
As a testament to Arms’ abilities, LSU has had more student successes in national competitions since the office was established than in the preceding 30 years collectively.
“We’ve had great success; not only individual student success, but also as a college., ,” she said. “[And] the students really inspire me … seeing how passionate they are about what they do — that always fuels me.”
To prepare students for the incredibly competitive selections process, Arms sets up practice interviews for students with professors on campus and helps students to craft strong personal statements.
“I really enjoy the process of self-examination and self-knowledge that comes out of writing the personal statement,” she said. “It’s certainly frustrating at times, but I like to think that when you have that finished product that you know yourself better.”
Arms said that, like writing the personal statement, the application process is a lengthy but ultimately rewarding experience.
“The experience of applying, regardless of whether you get it, is going to broaden your mind and your worldview,” she said. “Candidates routinely saywhat an amazing process it was, even if they don’t go on to become Truman or Rhodes Scholars.”
The biggest challenge that Arms faces is getting more Honors students to apply for fellowships and other awards.
“I think Honors College students underestimate themselves a lot, but they can compete with the best,” she said. “I’ve seen students from all over; I’ve seen them from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. I think [there is a] bias against Louisiana and against the South … but our students can hang with the best — in terms of academics, service, publications, leadership, and their ability to communicate.”
Another mistake that Arms sees many students make is one that she herself made.
“As on-paper-stellar as my undergraduate experience was, I did not fully embrace all of the opportunities here that I should have,” she said. “I think the biggest mistake I made was to graduate in three years. I was still on the high school track of let’s get going and do it fast, and that was totally against the idea of liberal education … Then I was unprepared to go to graduate school. I got in nowhere.”
Arms said that the painful experience of being rejected by her choice graduate schools forced her to slow down and figure out what went wrong.
“It became clear what I should have done all along, which are the things we say to do in the Honors College, like cultivate relationships with your professors,” she said. “I did it all wrong — I was trying to do it all by myself.”
For this reason, Arms strongly encourages all interested students — both Honors and non-Honors alike — to take advantages of the resources offered by the Office of Fellowship Advising.
“I wish I could impress upon everyone about how useful the [fellowship application] process is,” she said. “Even if you don’t get the award, you will reuse this document for something else and be in a better position for the next time. And there always is a next time. There always is something else.”
Story by Elizabeth Clausen, LSU Honors College
For more information, contact the Honors College at 225-578-8831.