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UB ‘SPARK’ program searches for future academic stars

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published July 2, 2015

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Two of UB's 2015 Fulbright recipients talk about what the fellowship means to them.

After consecutive banner years in which outstanding students have landed nationally and internationally competitive academic awards, UB is continuing a program for promising freshmen who could be the next recipients of these academic honors.

“I’m always searching for students who could be nominees for these awards,” says Elizabeth Colucci, coordinator of fellowships and scholarships for UB. “I’m reaching out to students with high GPAs to say, ‘Hey, have you thought about this?’ I‘m always looking for students who want to take a risk, to push themselves.”

Enter the university’s SPARK program. Described as a fellowship and scholarship development initiative, SPARK provides freshmen and sophomores with information about nationally and internationally competitive fellowships and scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students, and how to develop a competitive profile to apply for these awards.

This program for a select group of students meets for dinner over the course of eight weeks, Colucci says. It emphasizes how the highest-profile and most-prestigious academic awards are within the grasp of deserving UB students.

The topics covered during the program include finding research and initiatives, leadership and civic engagement, working with faculty and writing the essential personal statement — all designed to help students assess their strengths, envision their future and create a plan to become competitive for these major awards.

“There are great students everywhere in different programs doing different things,” says Colucci, whose office this year alone has been instrumental in helping students secure three Fulbright awards, three Goldwater Scholarships, a Boren scholarship — for only the second time in UB’s history — and a lucrative National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. A UB student also was a finalist for a Truman Scholarship.

“That’s my No. 1 challenge: to connect with those students. I turn to my colleagues across campus to send them to me.”

Since the SPARK program began in 2013, approximately 100 students have completed it. SPARK has been open to freshmen since the beginning; sophomores became eligible this past year. Participants have come from most of the major undergraduate education programs, including the Honors College, Academies, the Daniel Acker Scholars Program and the Educational Opportunity Program.

Many of the students who have applied for and won awards in recent years have completed this program. SPARK is accepting nominations for the fall program. Those interested should contact Colucci at (716) 645-6134 or email her at colucci3@buffalo.edu.