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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

SU's Nationally Competitive Scholarships Committee helps students obtain coveted awards

Biology alumna credits faculty mentors for her success at the National Institutes of Health

Feb. 27, 2012, by Judy Holmes

Sarah Wendel '11
Sarah Wendel '11
Sarah Wendel ’11 has the job of her dreams thanks to the mentorship she received through Syracuse University’s Nationally Competitive Scholarships Committee (NCSC). Wendel, who graduated in May 2011 with a B.S. in biology and a minor in Chinese studies from The College of Arts and Sciences, is working in a National Institutes of Health (NIH) research laboratory as the recipient of an NIH Post-Baccalaureate Intramural Training Award. The award enables recent college graduates to spend one or two years working directly with NIH investigators.

“I would not have ended up with such an amazing job without all of the guidance from my advisors and professors,” says Wendel, who is working on HIV research at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

The University’s NCSC helps students learn about scholarship and fellowship opportunities that match their interests as well as prepare for—and be successful in—applying for the awards. Students are invited to learn more at an NCSC-sponsored workshop, Friday, March 2 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Crouse-Hinds Hall, Room 101.  Information about this workshop, the NCSC, and scholarship and fellowship opportunities can be found on the newly launched NCSC web site.

“The freshman and sophomore years are not too early for students to begin exploring the opportunities available to them and to begin to build their credentials in ways that will help them be successful,” says Judy O’Rourke, director of undergraduate studies and a member of the NCSC team.

Chaired by Steve Kuusisto, director of the Reneé Crown Honors Program, and John Western, professor of geography in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, the NCSC includes faculty and staff members from across the University. Its members work closely with students and their mentors to help students identify their interests and then shape their undergraduate careers to facilitate their success.

Wendel, who plans to go to medical school next year, credits a chemistry professor she met during her freshman year for helping her obtain a summer internship that year at the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute. “Although the research was not my primary interest area, I got my foot in the door and learned basic laboratory skills,” Wendel says.

In between that first internship and her senior year, Wendel completed an Honors Capstone Project on hemorrhagic stroke; traveled to Tanzania to work as a hospital intern on the maternity ward, traveled to Peru to intern at a pediatrics clinic and volunteer for a mobile HIV/AIDS clinic, volunteered at Upstate University Hospital State University of New York (SUNY) in the pediatric emergency room, and worked as a neuroscience research intern at SUNY Upstate Medical University. She also traveled through SU Abroad to study in Hong Kong for a semester as part of her Chinese minor. It was the Chinese minor that intrigued her current supervisor and is what Wendel believes gave her the edge for the position.

“It’s not that I wasn’t well-qualified for this position,” Wendel says, “but there were so many other people applying for NIH positions that I believe the perspective I gained from my minor, and the unique experiences I had abroad, gave me an extra edge.”

Most of all, Wendel is appreciative of the support she received from the University’s NCSC; the Reneé Crown University Honors Program; and biology Professor John Belote, who was her faculty advisor. “They helped me every step of the process, supported me in all my spontaneous ideas, wrote recommendations days before the deadlines, and helped me select the best classes,” Wendel says. “My undergraduate career helped put me on this path with classes and study abroad opportunities.  What I learned in the classroom, I was able to take out into the real world and apply."