Faculty members like John Harles (seated) professor of politics, and Peter Powers, professor of English, guide students through the sometimes daunting process of applying for distinguished scholarships.
Motivation and Mentoring (continued)
“I was, of course, ecstatic to win the award,” recalls Wang. “I phoned up my parents and John Harles [professor of politics] from the interview room once the announcement was made. I was so happy that I had not let them down, and that I was able to do something which in itself would express a thank-you for all the support I had received over the years.”
There is little surprise that Wang made her second phone call to Harles, chair and professor of politics and her mentor. A year before, Harles had noticed something special in Wang that he believed could make her a serious contender for the Rhodes. He appreciated her sardonic sense of humor, noticed how socially engaged she was, and, most importantly, knew that she was smart. “Scary smart,” in his words. It helped that Wang was sufficiently motivated to dive into the daunting 50- to 80-hour application process; but while she never considered giving up, she also never really thought that she had much chance of winning. Harles’ guidance removed those doubts. He relentlessly worked with her, pushed her harder than most professors would, argued over multiple drafts of her application essays. As Wang progressed step-by-step through the award process, Harles also arranged mock interview panels on the Messiah campus to give Wang a real feel for staring into a stranger’s eyes and answering hard-boiled questions.
“As fellowship and scholarship coordinator at the College, I am given release time to devote to these kinds of responsibilities,” Harles explains. “But the crucial thing is the student, his or her ability, motivation, and temperament. That’s what makes for success.
“At larger educational institutions like Harvard, the awards process works like a well-oiled machine. But at Messiah and other small colleges, it’s more personal. That distinction pays off.
“One thing I notice about our candidates is that if they get to the interview stage of these competitions, they are extremely good with the kind of academic and social interaction needed to impress selection committees,” Harles remarks. “I always put this down to the intimacy of the small college. Our best students are socially skilled, in part, because they cannot hide in their classes.”
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