Four years ago, Florida State University launched a premier merit scholarship program with the mission of investing in students who have extraordinary potential to be transformational leaders of their generation.
The first cohort of 25 Presidential Scholars arrived on campus in 2014 and hit the ground running, immersing themselves in all FSU has to offer. Now, as the program welcomes its fourth class, it is operating at full capacity for the first time with 100 scholars.
“It’s been amazing to watch the program grow as the scholars have grown,” said Craig Filar, associate dean of Undergraduate Studies and program director of the Presidential Scholars program. “What started out as an idea to create an impactful and nurturing environment for some of our brightest students has grown into a family of young scholars with a great desire to make an impact on our campus and in our community.”
FSU received more than 2,000 applications for the 25 spots in this year’s cohort. It’s easy to guess why applications for the highly competitive scholarship have increased each year.
In addition to a generous award package for tuition, the program provides $12,000 for educational enrichment opportunities including international experiences, research and creative projects, service learning projects, internships and entrepreneurial development.
Members of the first Presidential Scholars’ cohort have made the most of these opportunities, whether it is traveling abroad, working with faculty through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) or creating outreach initiatives like the Power of We and the Academic Recruitment Organization (ARO).
Filar said one of the things that has been great about the Presidential Scholars program is the way students have used it as a platform to lead them to all kinds of other projects.
“It’s been so wonderful to see the FSU spirit come alive in these students, and see them really reflect what makes Florida State University such an amazing place,” Filar said. “In that respect, I think it has surpassed everyone’s greatest expectations. The programmatic and curricular pieces have been enhanced by the character of the individual scholars.”
Nat Jones is a senior from Tallahassee, who is triple-majoring in biology, Japanese and art history. Jones has conducted research in chemistry at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory and in Japanese history with the Institute on World War II and the Human Experience.
“I really like having a balance between all three of my majors, and Presidential Scholars has allowed me to hone what I want to do,” Jones said.
Presidential Scholars also helped open doors for Jones away from the classroom. Jones serves as president of the Undergraduate Art History Association, signed up over 2,000 individuals to the national bone marrow registry by establishing a local chapter of Be the Match on Campus and earned a Critical Language Scholarship in 2016 to study in Japan through the U.S. Department of State.
Being a member of the first class of Presidential Scholars has been a really interesting experience, Jones said.
“I’ve gotten to see everyone grow in their passion and leadership positions,” Jones said. “Four years ago, I hardly knew them. It’s a really great community where we can have complex conversations and receive feedback. It has really helped me grow as a person in all of my endeavors.”
Jones spent this past summer designing clinical research in the Pre-Health Undergraduate Program at the University of California, San Francisco to prepare for a career in transgender medicine. After graduation this spring, Jones plans to attend medical school.
“Presidential Scholars has been really helpful to me in figuring out my life path,” Jones said. “I want to work with other transgender individuals like myself and go into medicine to right the specific injustices that face this particular population. A year ago, I wouldn’t have known that.”
Will Boose, a senior history major from Naples, Fla., said that from day one the Presidential Scholars program helped him get his foot in the door.
“It gives you everything the Honors Program has to offer and gives you the confidence to immediately reach out to the university community and take advantage of everything it has to offer,” Boose said.
Boose has used his enrichment funding to make three trips to Latin America with another planned in a few months. He is working toward a career in the Foreign Service or as professor of Latin American studies, and his travel abroad helped solidify his future plans.
In fact, Boose felt so strongly about his experiences at FSU that he wanted to spread the word to high-achieving high school students. That idea generated a new campus organization — the Academic Recruiting Organization — that Boose founded with the help of Joe O’Shea, who now serves as assistant provost.
Admissions officers can share broad information about university programs, but ARO tries to supplement their work by speaking about students’ personal experiences at FSU. The group has grown to 90 members and is partially funded by the Office of the Provost.
“I wanted to bridge the gap between my experiences at FSU and how incredible they’ve been, and the public’s perception of FSU,” Boose said. “Most people don’t really know all of the opportunities available for top, engaged students.”
And, prospective students are definitely taking notice of the Presidential Scholars program and all it has to offer. This year’s group of 25 scholars includes students from six states and the United Kingdom.
“When I was applying to colleges, I was looking at small liberal arts schools,” said Giovanna Garcia, a freshman from Miami. “In Florida, we don’t really have those — they are mostly big state schools. The Honors Program and Presidential Scholars program provides a small community that is like a small liberal arts school within a larger state university. It’s the best of both worlds.”
Filar is thrilled to have a fully fleshed out program. He is especially grateful to Linda (B.S. ’65, English) and Phil Lewis, the donors who made the program possible.
“The scholars have proven to be some of the strongest ambassadors for the academic leadership and service communities we have here at Florida State University, and it is being noticed around the country,” Filar said.
For more information about the Presidential Scholars Program, visit http://presidentialscholars.fsu.edu/.