A stack of shelves list the names of scholarships that students across the country dream of getting. Applicants sometimes prepare semesters in advance for these nationally competitive awards.
According to a K-State media release, K-State students have won more than 124 of these national scholarships since 1986. One man works behind the scenes to encourage and assist students through the process.
Jim Hohenbary, assistant dean for Nationally Competitive Scholarships, helps students prepare and be as competitive as possible for prestigious scholarships like the Udall, Goldwater and Rhodes.
“What I like about this job is I get to work with bright students from all different disciplines, so it’s very interesting to learn about the directions that many different students are taking,” he said. “Every visit to my office will be different, and that’s what I like about it.”
Hohenbary informs students about scholarship opportunities and helps them find ones they qualify for. For scholarships that require university nomination, he directs the nomination process. Once students decide to apply, he assists them throughout the application process.
“I work with them as a resource to help them put forward the best possible application by doing things like critiquing personal statements in a résumé, advising them on what letters of reference they should choose and helping them sort out what a particular scholarship organization might be looking for.”
Hohenbary said the year he started was the year the National Association of Fellowship Advisers started.
“I think the fact that there now is a professional organization is a good illustration of how many more universities are starting to do what K-State has done for a long time,” he said.
Hohenbary said he is the third person to serve in the scholarship advising position at K-State. He credits the program’s success to Nancy Twist, former pre-law adviser and the first person to take on the responsibility of running the campus selection process.
“She took it seriously and really worked to help make students aware of these opportunities and helped them be successful,” he said, “and so from there I think she just really created the momentum for somebody to work on these kinds of things full-time. It’s really the model that she created that has been the blueprint for the office.”
A K-STATE START
Hohenbary joined the K-State faculty in 1997 as an open-option adviser, though he was not new to the university.
He received a master’s degree in creative writing from the university before he started working in the College of Arts and Science’s dean’s office.
Hohenbary discovered his interest in helping students as an undergraduate at Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. There he was part of the student activities board, similar to K-State’s Union Program Council, but what influenced him more was his position as a residence hall assistant.
“The way it was set up at Truman State, I was expected to provide some initial academic advising to students before they met with their official adviser,” he said. “I had the experience in working with students in that sense of planning out classes and schedules, and that was part in what interested me in the open-option position – thinking that it had been enjoyable and doing that in a more serious way.”
After a few years in the open-option position, Hohenbary applied for the scholarship adviser position.
Hohenbary said preparing for the national scholarship application process takes time. He tries to have students nominated far in advance of deadlines so they have time to rework their application.
For scholarships that do not require institutional endorsement, he recommends that students give themselves at least a month, though he thinks it’s better if they have more time than that.
“It depends what the scholarship is,” he said. “The ideal scenario would be talking to people semesters in advance so they know when they’re going to need to start things.”
Hohenbary said through all of his work with students, he never forgets their experiences. Often when students are successful, they send him a postcard or note thanking him for their help. Postcards from Prague, Czech Republic, and the University of Oxford hang on his file cabinets, reminding him of students’ accomplishments.
“After you have worked with them enough and you’re invested in what they’re trying to make happen, to see that pay off is great,” he said.
Hohenbary said even though some students are not successful in receiving a scholarship, the process is still beneficial because it teaches them to put together items like a résumé to make themselves marketable.
In a K-State media release, President Jon Wefald said Hohenbary would be a multiple winner of the “academic coach of the year award,” if it were a true honor.
Hohenbary said the comment is flattering, and he said his job is similar to coaching because students are entering a very competitive environment while he encourages them.
“I guess the extent to which it’s not exactly like coaching is that I don’t set an agenda for the students’ activities. If, say, they’re in an interview for a scholarship, I’m not there. We don’t get to huddle halfway through the interview. I don’t get to see them perform.
“But in the sense that the students are talking to me, and this is something other people are preparing as hard as they can, I have information that I can share and perspectives to give them on that.”
Hohenbary said he wants students to know they can be successful at the national level.
“Students think they might not be able to win, but they should keep in mind that it is probably the same thing that a lot of these people that have won thought before somebody twisted their arm to apply,” he said.
He said the people “twisting their arms” are either him or other faculty members, but it is what keeps the program going.
“One of the things that I’m really fortunate in is that I get to work with a very supportive faculty at K-State,” he said. “They’re generally very helpful in encouraging students to apply and being willing to serve on selection committees.
“So any success that K-State students have in the scholarship process is through their abilities and efforts, and I think it’s a generally supportive environment. Helping students succeed in the scholarship arena is a university commitment and not just a commitment by our office.”