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Olson Scholars

The Olson Scholars Program

About the Program

As a living memorial to William Olson, former Dean of the School of International Service whose dedication to the mentoring of students was renowned and greatly appreciated by numerous students over the years, the Olson Scholars Program recognizes high-achieving first-year students as they enter their sophomore year at SIS. The program provides a structured, challenging, and supportive curricular environment within which high-performing undergraduate students have the opportunity to pursue advanced work in international studies under the close supervision of a member of the SIS faculty.

Chosen for their high academic achievement, passion for international issues, and quality of their proposed research, Olson Scholars will enroll in a dedicated section of the core SIS research methodology sequence over the course of their sophomore year (SISU-206 Introduction to International Studies Research in the Fall, and SISU-306 Topics in International Studies Research in the Spring). Each Olson Scholar is also matched with an SIS faculty mentor whose research and professional interests closely correspond to the student’s own passions and vocational goals; the faculty mentor guides the student through the research project that the student will work on over the course of the year, extending into the summer following the sophomore year if the project requires it.

Olson Scholars are also eligible for research support funding, and will be invited to participate in a number of supplemental activities over the course of the year that are designed to take advantage of resources in Washington DC to broaden and deepen the students’ engagement with and grasp of the most pressing challenges in world politics today.

How to Apply

Applications for the Olson Scholars Program are available to first-year SIS undergraduate students in the Spring of their first year. Selection criteria include a student’s overall and in-major GPA, a record of engagement with and demonstrated passion for international issues, and the quality of the proposed research project on which the applicant proposes to work. Approximately 15 Olson Scholars will be named annually.

Please note that all selected Olson Scholars will be required to take designated sections of SISU-206 and SISU-306 during their second year.

For Fall 2014, this section is SISU 206-001 on Mondays and Thursdays from 11:45am - 1:00pm, taught by Professor Aaron Boesenecker.

Application Materials

The application deadline for Academic Year 2014 - 2015 is March 17, 2014.

Please save each each application component as a PDF file and send all materials to sisundergraduatescholarship@american.edu with the subject line "Olson Scholars Program Application AY 2014 - 2015"

I. Current Resume

II. Three short essays, 500 words for each essay; all should have a general international studies focus:

  1. Describe a moment of “intellectual clarity” that happened in or as a result of a class in your first semester. This might be an experience that stimulated you to think about something in a new way, that confirmed your interest in a given topic, or that challenged your preconceived ideas about a topic or problem in international studies.
  2. Conducting original research is at the core of the “2nd year experience” for SIS undergraduate students. Describe a question or a problem that you would like to research in depth in your 2nd year, paying particular attention to why you would like to research your chosen question and why it constitutes an international studies puzzle that merits substantial research.
  3. Describe a challenge that you faced in your first semester of college and discuss how you handled this challenge. Be specific in discussing the nature of the challenge (intellectual, personal, etc.) and the ways in which you engaged with that challenge. It is fine if you have not fully “solved” or “overcome” the challenge.

III. Letter of recommendation from an SIS instructor; this could include your World Politics TA from the Fall, or your First Year Seminar professor, or any other member of the SIS faculty who knows you and can speak to your fitness for the Olson Scholars program.

Please note that letters of recommendation should be submitted straight to sisundergraduatescholarship@american.edu by the SIS faculty member and not with the student's other application materials.

The application deadline for Academic Year 2014 - 2015 is March 17, 2014. Please direct any further questions to sisundergraduatescholarship@american.edu