Olson Scholars Program Advanced research for high-achieving students

The Olson Scholars Program recognizes high-performing first-year students with a passion for social science research as they enter their sophomore year at SIS. Named for William Olson, a former Dean of the School of International Service whose dedication to mentoring students was renowned, the program provides a structured, challenging, and supportive curricular environment within which Olson Scholars have the opportunity to pursue advanced research work in international studies under the close supervision of a member of the SIS faculty.

Chosen for their high academic achievement and quality of their proposed research, Olson Scholars enroll in a dedicated section of the core SIS research methodology sequence (SISU-206 and SISU-306) over the course of their sophomore year. Each student is 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. Olson Scholars take SISU- 206 (Introduction to International Studies Research) together in the fall, and SISU-306 (Advanced International Studies Research) together in the spring. As students proceed through SISU-306, they are expected to work more and more independently with their faculty mentor—perhaps the most exciting part of the Olson Scholars Program—while class time is devoted to exploring broad theoretical and methodological questions about the social sciences and the conduct and ethics of scholarship and research.

Olson Scholars are invited to participate in a number of supplemental activities over the course of the year. These 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.

Application Process

Applications for the Olson Scholars Program are available to 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.

The application deadline for Academic Year 2020-2021 is Monday, March 30 at 5:00 pm.

With the exception of the letter of recommendation, all application materials should be sent as a single PDF file attachment to sisundergraduatescholarship@american.edu.

Please include the following in your application package:

  1. A cover sheet containing your name, your AU ID#, your AU email address, and the name of your recommendation letter-writer.
  2. A current resume.
  3. Three short essays addressing the prompts below. Please limit yourself to 400 words for each essay (single-spaced, standard 12 point font).
    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 topic that you would like to research in depth in your 2nd year, paying particular attention to why you would like to research your chosen topic and why it constitutes an international studies puzzle that merits substantial research.
    3. All the students in the Olson Program are pursuing different topics and using a wide variety of methods. As such, the Program requires students self-starters in order to complete some of their learning independently. Scholars should be self-guided in determining the steps needed to complete their project. For your third short essay, describe a challenge or experience that has prepared you for this kind of independent work.
  4. A letter of recommendation, preferably from an SIS instructor. This could include your World Politics TA, your First Year Seminar professor, your Cross-Cultural Communications professor, or any other member of the SIS faculty who knows you and can speak to your suitability for the Olson Scholars program.

Letters of recommendation should be submitted directly to sisundergraduatescholarship@american.edu by the SIS instructor writing the letter.