Rosa Calosso ‘G20 applied for the prestigious Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship, with the assistance of CFSA’s assistant director, Melissa Welshans, in December 2020. Having received her master’s in science from the Cultural Foundations of Education program at Syracuse University, Rosa was applying to Ford at the same time as she was applying to Ph.D. programs where she could continue developing her research on alternative learning communities and cultural identity among Black Dominican women in the diaspora. Although she ultimately did not receive a Ford fellowship, Rosa was accepted to her top choice graduate program—the CUNY Graduate Center’s Urban Education Ph.D. program—with an enhanced financial aid package. The package she was offered by CUNY was well above what she would have received from the generous Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship.

Melissa recently spoke with Rosa about her application experience for the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship. Their conversation is edited and condensed for clarity below:

Why did you decide to work with the Center for Fellowship and Scholarship Advising (CFSA) to prepare your application?

During my first year of graduate school, I went to an information session for the P.D. Soros Fellowship where I was first introduced to CFSA. I had also considered applying for the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship that year, but was a bit overwhelmed by the application requirements [3 essays and 3 letters of recommendation among other documents] and, after starting the application, decided not to continue. Later that year, I attended an information session on conducting a funding search for graduate students hosted by SU’s Library where Melissa spoke. After participating in a summer writing class the summer after my second year, I felt ready to apply for the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship; I made sure to start early and to reach out to Melissa at CFSA for support.

How did writing the Ford Predoctoral Fellowship application help you clarify your research interests and future goals?

I wrote so many drafts that included great things that we just had to scratch haha. The application has 3 components – a personal essay, previous research statement, and statement of future goals for graduate study and my career. I wanted to write statements that sounded authentic and like myself, but I learned how to balance that with the kinds of things that the application was looking for—how to write for the genre of personal and research statements. I also learned how to be concise – how to include information about myself and my research in a short two pages. Although I felt like I hadn’t done much research my first couple of years as a graduate student, working on the application helped me think about how to frame my scholarly activities even if they weren’t conference presentations or formal publications. I was able to see the work I had been doing and articulate its value for my future goals. The application also pushed me to be specific about the research I wanted to do at CUNY and the faculty I wanted to work with. Basically, after writing those three essays, I had all the information and materials I would need to craft strong application essays for graduate school.

Would you say, then, that writing this application helped you write a strong graduate school application for CUNY?

It did! I had to work on the Ford before actually writing my application for CUNY, and the deep-dive research I did to prepare for the Ford application really made it easy to write my graduate school application essays. I didn’t have to start from scratch. One of the comments I got from CUNY admissions was that they were really impressed with the focus I presented in my personal statement; there was no liability in accepting me as a graduate student, since I had really convinced them that I knew how to make the best use of the resources available at their program to complete my dissertation. It was one of the first times I felt affirmed in my writing ability from a source beyond my own faculty, and really gave me a lot of confidence in my ability to succeed as an academic.

What would you say to other students interested in applying to prestigious scholarships and fellowships?

I never understood why being told to do work outside of class was worth it before I did this application haha. But you have to give it a try, and even if you don’t get the award, you will learn so much. Through my writing, I developed a blueprint not only for my graduate application, but for future fellowships to support my research. And it was especially helpful that I started early and gave myself ample time to work with CFSA and revise multiple drafts before the deadline. It made the whole process seem less daunting, and I could take the time to approach each piece of the application and give it the time it needed.   And since Ford gives feedback to applicants regardless of whether or not they receive the award, I also received valuable feedback from scholars in my field on my research idea and scholarly activities.

Most importantly, giving the process time helped me ultimately build a better relationship with writing. I learned how to be ok with cutting a lot of things I had written, with accepting feedback, and with being rejected – all parts of writing as an academic. I am now ok with writing – with 10 revision drafts, and with being told ‘no.’ Even without receiving the Ford fellowship, I still go the support I needed, the experience I wanted, and eventually got accepted into an amazing graduate program (with outstanding funding) that is also home for me. I started in CUNY earning my bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and now I get to go back, be closer to my family, and help mentor other undergrads as part of my financial aid package who are from similar backgrounds.