The night before the nomination round of his Rhodes and Marshall Scholarship interview, Jerrell Whitehead ’05 felt “really nervous,” and he said he didn’t think he stood a chance compared to other Yale applicants. Shaken up by a case of cold feet, Whitehead called Bryan Leach LAW ’05, a graduate fellowship affiliate who had been helping him through the Rhodes and Marshall application process since last spring.
“I called Bryan on the phone at 9:00 for an hour, and he talked me through the entire process, A to Z,” Whitehead said. “He really comforted me and prepared me. I went in there, destroyed the Yale round and got nominated because of Bryan.”
The Graduate Fellowship Affiliates Program, started last spring by Yale’s Council of Masters and the International Education and Fellowship Programs, assigns each residential college at least one Yale graduate student who has won a U.K. fellowship such as the Rhodes or the Marshall. Graduate fellowship affiliates help fellowship applicants through the application process by conducting mock interviews and reading essays. Each residential college independently decides who to invite as a Graduate Fellowship Affiliate and how to administer the program. Likewise, affiliates have the options to defer or decline an offer to serve. Colleges also give affiliates meal privileges so they can “mix and mingle” with undergraduates, said IEFP Associate Director Mark Bauer.
Bauer said the program builds on preexisting programs, such as the Graduate Affiliate Program, which hopes to enhance the undergraduate experience by involving graduate and professional students in the residential colleges.
“These are very accomplished, intelligent and outgoing people who can add to the life of the college,” Bauer, who initially proposed the idea to the College of Masters, said. “Having these kinds of contacts — helps students tremendously.”
Most colleges have a formalized and active affiliate program. But some colleges, such as Calhoun College, whose affiliates deferred for the year, maintain informal ties to graduate students outside the program — these graduate students perform the same function as affiliates, Calhoun Master William Sledge said.
The graduate students, who are familiar with the fellowship application process, are useful resources for undergraduates, graduate fellowship affiliate Josh Chafetz ’01 LAW ’07 said.
“There are hundreds of qualified applicants in the country,” Chafetz said. “A lot of it is knowing what to expect and just having people to talk to who have been through the process before.”
One of the most important ways affiliates can help applicants is by conducting mock interviews with them, Sledge said. Graduate fellowship affiliate Carolyne Davidson GRD ’09 said these practice interviews ease students’ nerves by preparing them for their real interviews.
“We’re mean, but it helps because by the time they get to the panel, it’s easier,” she said.
Anne Rosenzweig ’05, a Gates Cambridge Scholarship applicant, said she thought her affiliate was helpful.
“She was excellent in helping me with my research proposal,” Rosenzweig said. “You could tell she hadn’t spent just two minutes skimming through it. She really gave me very substantial feedback.”
But most students said they were unaware of the existence of the program. Alexander Llerandi ’06 said he was “vaguely aware” of the program, which he heard about through e-mails from his dean. Rosenzweig said the program is not well-known because the burden of seeking out information on the program falls to students.
“It seems to me there isn’t a real coordinated effort to bring the affiliates together and tell us about them,” she said. “It was more about me knowing [the affiliate].”
Bauer said he is hopeful the program, currently in its initial stage, will continue to grow.
“I think it is in its infancy, and we’ll just keep being supportive,” he said. “It just builds so naturally on what is already in the colleges.”