by Geoff Gehman ’80 | photography by Chuck Zovko
Julia Goldberg will do pretty much anything to help students get big-ticket fellowships and gold-standard scholarships. The associate dean of the College cajoles and badgers, fills application essays with red ink, fills heads with purple possibilities. “I’m here to help you become the person you want to become, to help you get there,” she says.
Since 2002, the year she became Lafayette’s chief of major student grants, she’s helped many students receive prestigious awards (including the Goldwater and the Fulbright) and become finalists for even more prestigious awards (the Truman, the Marshall). In the process, they have boosted their writing and interviewing skills, their bravery, and their humility.
Goldberg finds grant candidates pretty much everywhere. She gets recommendations from faculty and community mentors. She scouts lectures and performances. She’s attracted to a well-balanced ledger of exceptional grades, scholarly passion, and fearlessness. “Many students don’t apply for awards because they fear rejection,” she says. “It’s a lot easier to fail by default than to fail by effort.”
One of Goldberg’s many roles is coach. She encourages students to improve their chances for big awards through experiences like EXCEL research, independent study, study abroad, and civic engagement. (Hint: it doesn’t hurt to teach English at a Buddhist temple school in Thailand.)
Goldberg tests the mettle of some juniors by helping them apply for a Truman Scholarship. The award is lucrative, providing up to $30,000 for graduate study leading to a career in government or elsewhere in public service. It’s highly competitive: this year 60 scholars were chosen from 576 applicants nominated by 245 colleges and universities. And it’s highly demanding: applicants have to write a 500-word essay about an issue they plan to address, devoting 100 of those words to potential obstacles.
Goldberg also plays matchmaker. She encouraged Diana Galperin ’08, a Truman finalist, to apply for a junior fellowship with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She believed that a leading global think-tank would be ideal for a double major in international affairs and French who had interned with the world-wide organization Human Rights Watch and had used her knowledge of Russian to help Joshua Sanborn, associate professor of history, write a book about the ecosystem of war.
Goldberg and Rado Pribic, chair of the International Affairs program, helped Galperin write a policy-oriented persuasive essay, something new for a writer of academic papers. In 2008, the Carnegie Endowment selected Galperin and eight other junior fellows from nearly 300 nominees. She received a salary of $33,000 plus benefits to work with senior fellows, including leading scholars and government officials, on a range of Russian and Eurasian issues for a year. The experience was “extremely stimulating, challenging, and exciting,” says Galperin, now a research assistant in the Carnegie Endowment’s Russia and Eurasia program.
This year, Banks Clark ’10 was one of 187 recipients nationally of an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship, recognizing excellence in academics and athletics. “The process of applying for scholarships is just as important as the decision letters you receive months later. The rigor of the process and the purposeful thought you put in pay dividends in other applications and life decisions,” Clark says. A fencer who created an interdisciplinary major in the philosophy of religion to complement a major in art, he was accepted into graduate programs in systematic theology at Harvard, Oxford, Chicago, and Duke, among other schools, and plans to attend Duke.
“Researching, writing, and revising scholarship applications gave me great preparation and confidence for my graduate school applications. The acceptances are a testimony to the scholarship-application process and the attention I received in the dean’s office.”
Hart Feuer ’05 is another one of Goldberg’s scholar-fellow role models. He began thinking seriously about applying for grants as a first-year student, after plummeting stocks caused his college fund to drop nearly 40 percent. That year, he struck out on 10 applications. His luck improved as a sophomore, when Goldberg helped him receive the first of his two Udall Scholarships, which go to future leaders in environmental fields.
Feuer admired Goldberg’s flexible, frank style. “She can employ a tough-love, buddy-buddy, or gentle pleading approach,” says the German/economics and business graduate. “And she is quick to communicate that she also struggles with editing funky essays and leveling with some students. That communal struggle endeared me to her right away.”
Goldberg and Feuer were first-rate teammates. As a junior, he became a Truman finalist and was awarded a fellowship from the Center for Khmer Studies, funded by the Henry Luce Foundation, to do research in Cambodia for three months.
As a senior, Feuer was a finalist for a Rhodes Scholarship, which funds graduate study at Oxford. He was awarded a Fulbright Student Grant to travel to Israel to study environmental cooperation between Israel and Jordan and was one of 76 recipients, out of 1,300 applicants, of a graduate scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. The award, worth up to $50,000 per year over six years, funded Feuer’s master’s degree in the philosophy of development studies at Oxford. The Cooke continues to finance his doctoral program at the University of Bonn, where he’s investigating innovative agriculture in Cambodia.
Feuer credits Goldberg for training him to write successful grant essays. “You have to make it seem like this scholarship is simply the next step in your life story,” he says.
Goldberg, the fine-tuner, adds a finer spin. “It’s one thing to know the rules of grammar, but it’s another thing to present yourself so your personality jumps off the page. You have to really pull from the soul.”
Max Minckler ’10 is another Goldberg protégé. Student and dean met in 2006, when Goldberg began advising Minckler and other first-year Marquis Scholars. Goldberg says Minckler was the only student who listened carefully to her pitch about becoming a candidate for major awards. He says he listened carefully largely because he needed money to help his parents, a first-grade teacher and a novelist, pay the bills for his education.
Minckler and Goldberg soon bonded over a shared love of words. She holds a doctorate in linguistics from Cambridge University and taught courses in communications before coming to Lafayette. He taught writing at an Easton community center and wrote slam poetry. Goldberg edited the essays that helped him land a fellowship from the international non-profit Humanity in Action to study civil rights abroad. He spent the summer after his sophomore year in Warsaw, following the campaign to restore Jewish ownership of Polish homes taken away by Nazis and Communists.
Last year, Goldberg declared Minckler ready to apply for one of the most prized post-graduate awards. The Marshall Scholarship was established in 1953 by the British government to finance young Americans of high ability to study for a degree in the United Kingdom. Each year, 40 scholarships are given for graduate study in any field. Goldberg believes the Marshall is “the quiet sibling” of the famed Rhodes Scholarship. In fact, she insists, the Marshall is every bit as important as the Rhodes.
Goldberg and Minckler worked overtime-and-a-half editing his three Marshall essays. They slaved over a personal statement about his academic career. She reminded him to avoid the “extremely pretentious” essay he had written for another prestigious scholarship.
“I admit it. I just sounded like a complete jerk, which I’m generally not,” says Minckler, an English major. “The big mantra with all this application stuff is ‘show, don’t] tell,’ whatever that means. It’s very annoying, especially when Goldberg is sending me messages every day—this doesn’t work, that doesn’t work. She must have blown through 50 red pens on me. She’s definitely a passion starter and a passion pusher.”
“It’s extremely hard to write about yourself succinctly and captivatingly. It’s a real long slog. Sometimes I think it’s tougher for me than for the applicants. It’s not easy watching the color drain from their faces,” Goldberg says.
Both Minckler and Goldberg felt healthier when Minckler finished polishing his personal statement. Goldberg was thrilled by his description of his philosophical roller coaster through romanticism, cynicism, and poetry-powered optimism. “I love the aha moments when the essay revisions suddenly begin to click as students move beyond the superficial and weave the various threads together, capturing their intellectual and personal journey into a cogent, compelling narrative,” she says. “I love watching them develop their own ideas, watching them grow in confidence and excitement.”
Last November, Minckler learned he was one of nearly 160 Marshall finalists from eight U.S. regions. (He shared this honor with Stephanie Fosbenner ’10, a neuroscience graduate who has researched causes of mental illness and the distribution of AIDS drugs to third-world countries.)
Minckler prepared for his Marshall interview by participating in two mock interviews, one of which included President Daniel H. Weiss and Hannah Stewart-Gambino, dean of the College. One final thing. On a Friday evening, 48 hours before he was scheduled to fly to Atlanta to meet the Marshall panelists, Goldberg asked whether he had obtained signed, sealed copies of his letters of recommendation to take with him. (The letters had already been submitted electronically, and instructions from the Marshall reps with respect to hard copies had been ambiguous. So this was just in case.) That night, student and dean visited the homes of four professors for autographs.
In Atlanta, Minckler sat surrounded by eight Marshall inquisitors. He quickly realized he would be tested on virtually every nuance of his application. His first task: perform a slam poem. Too nervous to remember a work from his repertoire, he improvised one. He relaxed a bit when he heard his interrogators applauding.
For Minckler, the next half hour felt like 10 seconds. He was grilled about philosophy, the theme of his personal statement. He was asked to describe why Shakespeare used a particular word in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
In the end, Minckler wasn’t chosen as a member of the Marshall Class of 2010-11. “I took the rejection hard, but not that hard.” What did he gain from his trial by fire? Well, his confidence as a writer-speaker-performer skyrocketed. And his dynamic personal statement helped get him into a master’s program at the University of Durham. Which means he’ll be in England in the fall doing what he would have done on a Marshall: studying Wallace Stevens’ poetry.
In the end, Minckler learned that the top prize of applying for a major grant may be the process. Applying for the Marshall helped him discover and describe what he does best and what he can do better. Even though he didn’t succeed, he did.
“Just being a finalist is a tremendous vote of confidence,” says Goldberg. “It’s hard to get back in there and try again after that disappointment, to be sure. But we all need to keep in mind that the scholarship or fellowship is a means to an end and never, never the end in itself.”