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National Scholarship process

Behind The Scenes: The Nationally Competitive Scholarship Process

Brian Johnson

One of the more familiar faces around the Honors College is Dr. Brian Johnson, who is not only a faculty member and the director of the Honors at Oxford study abroad program, but also serves as OU's Director of Nationally Competitive Scholarships. In this role, he serves as an advisor to those students who apply for national scholarships. This service is available to all OU students who excel academically and show strong leadership and service capabilities.

The variety of scholarships available to students include undergraduate and graduate scholarships as well as international and domestic scholarships. For example, the Marshall Scholarship offers funding for graduate study at almost any university in the UK, and the Goldwater Scholarship provides more than 50 scholarships a year to fund study for STEM students who plan to pursue research once they receive their degree. There are also scholarships that award those interested in certain fields such as Native American Studies, language acquisition, and engineering, to name a few. 

The process starts with infromational meetings every semester aimed at sophomores and juniors focused on various scholarships. These meetings introduce students to the scholarships that they may be best suited for and fit their interests, the qualificatins they need to develop further, and the realistic timeline that they can expect with the scholarship process. 

Dr. Johnson meets with hundreds of students during these initial meetings. From that number he narrows his pool to dozens with whom he works closely on their applications. Along with the help of review committees he assembles, he chooses candidates based on how robust and varied their undergraduate career is in a variety of areas, including academics, community service, research, and campus leadership. From his revised list, a handful of students typically earn major nationally competitive scholarships each year.

Scholarship deadlines vary, but students begin to meet with Dr. Johnson a few months before the deadline; they meet in person multiple times, working to develop the strongest application materials possible. During that time, the student's writing will be analyzed and polished, and they will be advised on how to secure strong recommendation letters, how to receive letters on schedule, and how to revise and submit their application materials. 

Rebecca Morren

One of our most recent winners, Rebecca Morren, was named a National Security Education Program (NSEP) Scholar in the Spring of 2023. This is a major award for undergraduate students who wish to study a critical language while immersing themselves in diverse cultures. Successful applicants must also have a commitment to public service. With her award money, Rebecca plans to study in Taiwan for roughly eight months where she will be a student at the National Taiwan University, participating in an intensive Chinese language program. She also plans to attend English-speaking churches to volunteer with their English classes. 

Although Rebecca is still in the midst of her undergraduate career, she has already earned an award that has given her recognition nationwide. Of her achievement she says, "It's pretty cool to say I have won a national scholarship. It's impactful because I never thought I would be able to spend a semester abroad, and with this scholarship, it's not only a dream come true but to do it for nearly free. To me, that's just so awesome." Since winning the scholarship, Dr. Johnson has helped Rebecca plan her budget for her upcoming trip to Taiwan.

Dr. Johnson not only provides assistance to undergraduate Honors students applying for these awards. He recently worked with Elizabeth Besozzi, a graduate student working on a doctorate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who was named an NSEP Fellow in the summer of 2022. That award funds research and language study by U.S. graduate students in world regions critical to U.S. interests.

The application process for Elizabeth began four months before the deadline, and she wouldn't advise anyone to start later than that. Her essays themselves took a month to complete and she commented that it was important to leave time for careful revision of her application materials. Of her experience she says, "Dr. Johnson's input was invaluable in helping me narrow my experience to it's most impactful points, and in helping me see connections between my research and U.S. national security interests that were not immediately apparent to me." She continued, "Without his helpful feedback on my essay drafts, my application would not have made the connection between climate change and national security and would not have been successful.

For Elizabeth, this recognition has been lifechanging. Apart from receiving $25,000 to study traditional Mandarin in Taipei, Taiwan, for 9 months, it has provided her with numerous networking opportunities. The NSEP provides extensive professional development opportunities for their alumni to find federal employment. These opportunities for alumni include having federal agencies prioritize their applications, being recruited for in-demand positions, and being invited to hiring fairs and seminar series in Washington, D.C. They also hold monthly networking events and federal resume and job application support services. 

After her experience applying to national scholarships, Elizabeth has the following advice for future applicants: "In all of the networking events since arriving back from Taiwan I have noticed a growing interest for people with both language skills and some kind of STEM background in federal service. I encourage any student with this background to apply to the (NSEP) scholarship or fellowship-- in the current climate these applicants would be especially competitive." 

Elizabeth Besozzi
Lisa Maslovskaya

Our most recent scholarship winner is creative media production senior, Lisa Maslovskaya. Lisa learned about national scholarships at an informational meeting Dr. Johnson held at the Honors College in May 2023. After meeting with her advisors and Dr. Johnson, she realized that her story and creative projects could set her apart from other applicants and amplify the message that her films portrayed. She commented that it was Dr. Johnson who proposed the Mitchell Scholarship . The Mitchell Scholarship awards up to twelve students with one year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by higher learning institutions in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Although her initial meeting with Dr. Johnson took place in May, Lisa didn't seriously start thinking about the Mitchell until August, which left her with just over one month to prepare her application. In this time, she met with Dr. Johnson weekly and he became not only an advisor but also a mentor and friend. The application included a personal statement, interviews, and a 1,000-word essay. Of this she says "I became so much more mature and more confident in myself during this process. I became precise in my answers, I gave meaning to each word, and I became more knowledgable in my own field of study. I feel like I can accomplish anything I put my mind to now."

Lisa is already an accomplished filmmaker, with her previous film focusing on the war in Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees in the United States. During her year in Ireland, she plans to continue her filmmaking career by conducting research for a film showing Ukrainian refugees in Ireland, and exploring what can be done to help two years into the war. 

Our last student highlighted is Lucy Mahaffey, who won the Marshall Scholarship in 2019. She first learned about national scholarships through an email from the Honors College her freshman year, and she began seriously thinking of applying her sophomore year after talking to Dr. Johnson. Lucy decided to apply to the Marshall scholarship, which fully funds master's degree study at any university in the UK. Her focus while building her application was tailoring it to the very specific criteria. This involved weekly meetings and countless emails with Dr. Johnson in which he helped her polish her essays and present her ideas as clearly as possible. 

When asked about the impact the scholarship had on her, Lucy said, "The scholarship has changed my life. I have received two master's degrees, fully funded by the UK government, and met my life partner, who is British. I've coordinated and been in the room for US-UK Cabinet Level Meetings, and supported private meetings at Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and with UK Space Command."

Lucy is now a judge for nationally competitive scholarships and gets to read dozens of applications from across the US each year. Her advice for applicants today is "1. Know your scholarship criteria, 2. Be as specific as possible about why this program and 3. Be true to yourself where no one else could have possibly written your application." 

Lucy Mahaffey

The University of Oklahoma has a long history of assisting students through the scholarship process and we have the winning record to prove it. Our roster includes 63 Goldwater recipients and 30 Rhodes Scholars, among many others. This past year, we had about twelve different students that were named finalists, semifinalists, and winners of numerous scholarships. Although the process can be daunting, we are proud of the personalized support that Dr. Brian Johnson provides to students who wish to apply to the numerous scholarships that are available to them. If you are interested in starting the scholarship application process, contact Dr. Brian Johnson at