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Colucci heads new office to mentor more student success stories

Elizabeth Colucci.

In her role as director of the new Office of Fellowships and Scholarships, Elizabeth Colucci will be able to ramp up her already impressive effort to help UB students win prestigious national and international fellowships and scholarships. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published September 8, 2016

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“I think the culture is changing at UB because we’re getting to great students earlier. ”
Elizabeth Colucci, director
Office of Fellowships and Scholarships

Imagine an orientation handbook for UB students offering valuable information on how best to take advantage of their time on campus.

Somewhere in the opening pages should be a photograph of Elizabeth Colucci, recently named director of UB’s new Office of Fellowships and Scholarships. Study that picture. If there is anyone promising students should get to know — anyone on campus who has shown the ability to change the arc of talented students — it’s Colucci.

She’ll be the first to spread out the credit, to the students themselves and the others on the Fellowships and Scholarships team. Nevertheless, she’s led what can accurately be called a campaign to identify some of UB’s best and brightest. She’s the guiding force lifting these students to an academic level that turns a distinguished university career into something national and even international.

As much as anyone else on campus — a lofty assessment others will second — Colucci is responsible for what for numerous students has been a radical, life-changing move. And now, in time for the fall 2016 semester, Colucci is in a position to increase her work, to show a substantially larger number of students that the highest rung of academic achievement — world-respected and lucrative fellowships and scholarships such as the Fulbright, Marshall, Truman, Boran, Goldwater, National Science Foundation and Critical Language — is within their grasp.

That’s the message from Colucci and those in her new office: You, too, can be among those students achieving far beyond what they thought possible when they first came to UB.

The new office sounds deceptively administrative. In practice, it’s going to help Colucci to do the work that already has produced numerous successes. Every successful student tells a story. Now Colucci wants more students to be able to take advantage of academic opportunities they probably never imagined before coming to UB.

“We want to open more doors,” she says. “More outward recognition of intellectual excellence.” More access to what she calls the “international pipeline of opportunities. Building capacity.”

All that means a better likelihood that students who never considered themselves Fulbright of NSF or Goldwater material now will see themselves differently.

“We have amazing students here at UB,” says Colucci, a Western New York native who graduated from Williamsville North High School and then earned an economics degree from St. Lawrence University and a master’s in higher education administration from Boston College. “These are national and international opportunities they don’t necessary know about.”

For those imagining that orientation handbook survival guide, look under “Ways to Elevate Your Life.” Colucci has dedicated herself to nothing less than a culture change, where preparing for and then making a realistic run at these ultra-prestigious academic honors is something UB students do.

“I think the culture is changing at UB because we’re getting to great students earlier,” she says.

And Colucci’s approach is more systematic and revival than Pentecostal. The structures to reach these students are coming together, and having her own office — Colucci stresses the value of Megan Stewart, who was named fellowships and scholarships adviser — is part of the plan.

“We’re doing thoughtful things like the SPARK program (which shows freshmen and sophomores how to develop a competitive profile to apply for these awards),” Colucci says. “Over the last two years we’ve done a Fulbright development program and a National Science Foundation development program.

“We get them thinking about what they want to do, and then we begin the writing process.”

Colucci’s new position as director of the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships comes with heavy endorsements from UB’s chief administrators for graduate and undergraduate education, both of whom Colucci praises for putting the philosophy of increasing the number of UB students receiving these nationally competitively awards into university policy.

“Through Elizabeth’s dedication and leadership, UB undergraduates have been tremendously successful in competing for nationally and internationally recognized fellowships,” says Graham Hammill, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School.

“An expanded Office of Fellowships and Scholarships will provide support to both undergraduates and graduate students in identifying and applying for highly competitive, prestigious awards. Since the level of competition for these awards is so intense, the process of applying itself will help our graduate students advance their research projects and achieve their academic goals.”

Hammill says the new office also will help departments and programs apply for grants to enhance graduate and undergraduate education here at UB.

Andrew McConnell Stott, vice provost and dean of undergraduate education and director of the Honors College, couldn’t agree more.

“The expansion of the fellowships and scholarships office is a testament to the amazing job Elizabeth Colucci has done finding, preparing and motivating students to aim for the highest goals,” Stott says. “Ever since she was an adviser in the Honors College, Elizabeth has had a great rapport with students, and her successes speak for themselves. I fully expect us to have many more winners in the years ahead.”
 
For Colucci, her success will come down to numbers, as well as individual success stories.

Madelaine Britt hugging Elizabeth Colucci.

Madelaine Britt (left) hugs Elizabeth Colucci after receiving the news she had received the Truman Scholarship. Colucci encouraged Britt to apply for the scholarship and guided her through the process. Photo: Joe Cascio

“We basically have two goals,” she explains: “to increase the number of undergraduate and graduates applying for and winning Fulbrights and other international awards, and to increase the number of undergrads and graduates applying for and winning National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.

“Kind of two different worlds — the science world and the international world,” she says.

 Colucci suggests looking at Villanova University as a marker. “They put forward 100 Fulbright applications; Holy Cross College puts through 50.

“I want UB to be recognized as a top-producing Fulbright institution,” she says.

Colucci notes that with Stewart joining the Office of Fellowships and Scholarships as its adviser, the office can better support Colleen Culleton, associate professor of Spanish and Fulbright program administrator, in reaching more students.

“This is our way of building capacity,” she says, “by having someone on the front line, like Megan, to do this all the time and to actively solicit international fellowships and scholarship opportunities.”

The other piece of this effort is the students themselves. One after another, they praise Colucci for her faith in their academic potential to compete for these prestigious awards, and her guidance in getting them past the finalist stage to the prize itself.

Madelaine Britt, UB’s first recipient of the Truman Scholarship, is a perfect example. Colucci was in President’s Satish Tripathi’s office when Britt found out she had received the scholarship, an award UB officials call the most prestigious undergraduate fellowship of all. The two left the president’s office after the official announcement arm-in-arm.

“Elizabeth is an incredible resource to her students,” Britt says. “The dedication and passion she showed me was instrumental in my scholarship success. The application process can sometimes be an overwhelming one, but she takes her students step by step, empowering them and helping them realize their own potential,” she says.

“I could not be more thankful to have had the opportunity to work with Elizabeth and am very happy to see her be recognized for her hard work at UB.”

The Office of Fellowships and Scholarships is located in 408 Capen Hall, North Campus. Interested students can contact the office at 645-9682 or via email.