This past November, Honors College senior Dan Koenemann travelled to New York City as one of ten finalists in District 1 (Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey) of the Rhodes Scholarship competition. Dan was not ultimately one of the two winners, but simply to be chosen as a finalist in this most prestigious of scholarship competitions is a tremendous honor, a resounding acknowledgement of Dan's numerous achievements while at UVM.
A biology major and student athlete with a 4.0 GPA, Dan has found several faculty mentors at UVM, chief among them Professor David Barrington, a plant biologist in whose lab Dan has worked since his sophomore year. Drawing on work he had done as a sophomore in one of Professor Barrington's courses on evolutionary biology, Dan applied for and won a prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship in 2007. The Goldwater is awarded to about 300 outstanding American undergraduates a year (from a pool of about 1500) in the fields of science, math and engineering. In the summer of 2008, Dan was given the opportunity to deepen his research in evolutionary plant biology when he was selected for a coveted internship at the New York Botanical Gardens. He plans to continue his research as a graduate student, and is currently applying to Ph.D. programs in the U.S. for the Fall of 2010. Dan is also considering a religious vocation with the goal of one day being a priest-professor at a university like Georgetown, or the Catholic University of America.
Recently, the Fellowships Office caught up with Dan to ask him about his experience with the Rhodes application process and the interview in New York City (which consisted of a cocktail party on Friday, November 20, and a formal interview the next day).
HCOL: What was the most rewarding part of the Rhodes process for you?
Dan Koenemann: I am split on the most rewarding part of the process. One of the great things that came out of the whole deal was the large amount of reading that I was able to do. I generally don't have much time to read for "pleasure" or even for interest. But in the case of the Rhodes, I needed to do a lot of self-educating, not just in preparing for the interview, but in order to aid in the process of self-discovery that is such an integral part of the application process.
On the other hand, I am very, very glad that I was able to go to the interviews. The people there were absolutely wonderful. All of the candidates were interesting, sincere, and fun to be with. It was really astonishing to be in a room with so many great people. By the end of the day, we all felt that it didn't matter who won! And God bless the committee for having to choose among those that were there.
HCOL: And what was the most challenging part for you?
DK: Certainly the most challenging part has to be the essay. This is more than an essay. Unlike undergraduate admissions essays, or even graduate admissions essays, in a very unique way, the Rhodes personal statement IS you. One cannot simply pick a topic and write something that doesn't have any typos and expect to win. Both the content and prose come from somewhere much deeper. So not only do you have to drag something from the depths of your soul, which, in and of itself requires a certain willingness to be made vulnerable, but you also must then polish that raw part of yourself in order to make it presentable and understandable to the committee. It took a long time, and a lot, A LOT, of self reflection and prayer. I remember reading in one of the preparation packets that [Associate Dean] Lisa [Schnell] gave me that the best way to begin this is to read all about your favorite things and then go do some mindlessly repetitive task. This is advice I would wish to forward.
HCOL: What was the most memorable part of the interview itself?
DK: The most memorable part of the interview itself was getting to meet all of the candidates. The cocktail party was a little awkward, but the next day was great. I strongly suggest spending a good portion of your day just sitting in the waiting area and shooting the breeze with the other candidates. There was some strange sort of bond which developed within the group as a whole. I think that it was our collective suffering and general nervousness!
HCOL: What advice would you have for future UVM Rhodes applicants?
DK: My advice would be a simple warning. Regardless of your mindset upon entering the process, be ready to receive much more than you bargained for. If you let yourself truly participate in the process, it will change you. You cannot know when, where, or how, but it will. Just be prepared for something emergent, something more than a paper, CV, and interview. Win or lose, you will be a very different person on the other side. I didn't believe that would be case when I started the process either, but I stand corrected.