Each year, the Honors College awards five Hillcrest Scholarships. Hillcrest scholarships provide funds to support transformative, off-campus summer experiences for outstanding Honors students in their second or third year. Recipients receive up to $5,000 in financial assistance to engage in research, internships, entrepreneurial activity, creative endeavors, language training, or service- or leadership-related initiatives. Students are encouraged to work with a faculty mentor to design unique projects that help them meet their academic and/or career goals.

Hillcrest Scholars are selected on the basis of their proposed project, their ability to connect the proposed experience to future goals, their leadership experience and community engagement, their ability to make a significant contribution to society in the future, and the transformative potential of the proposed Hillcrest project. 

Three of the Hillcrest awards focus on special populations: 

Students with demonstrated financial need are eligible for the Hinshaw-Warren Scholarship. Eligible students will be automatically considered for this award upon applying for a Hillcrest Scholarship if they have demonstrated financial aid as defined by the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. 

The Fredric I. McGhee Scholarship for Aspiring Entrepreneurs Scholarship provides financial assistance to carry out transformational off-campus experiences such as (but not limited to) a business startup, analysis of a new product or conceptual idea, an internship, or a project related to the Honors capstone project. Eligible students will be automatically considered for this award upon applying for a Hillcrest Scholarship, based on their proposal content. 

The Witherspoon Scholarship is an endowed scholarship made possible by the generous donation of Margaret E. and Douglas F. Witherspoon whose daughters, Laura ('12) and Catherine ('17) were members of the JMU Honors College. Each summer, one scholarship will be available for a first- or second-year student who seeks to complete an immersive summer research experience with a mentor, on- or off-campus. The student can be assisting with an ongoing faculty project as long as the student has ample opportunity for growth and development. The funding is designed to directly support student expenses, including (but not limited to) summer living expenses, research costs, travel, stipend, etc. Recipients of the Witherspoon Scholarship must be enrolled in at least 1 summer credit. 

Please note that a three-year period is required before the Witherspoon Scholarship can be made again to students engaged in research or scholarly activity in a particular college.


The Honors College especially welcomes applications by students from underrepresented backgrounds and projects/experiences that promote diversity, cultural awareness, and mutual understanding.

Selection Process

Hillcrest Scholars are selected on the following basis: 

  • The quality of the proposed enrichment experience: The selection committee will look for a specific and feasible project proposal that clearly articulates how the proposed activity fits into the applicant’s academic and career plans and indicates why the applicant plans to carry out this activity in the proposed location. The proposal should clearly discuss how the project contributes to future academic endeavors, such as the Honors Capstone Project.  
  • Academic achievements and intellectual promise: The selection committee will look at the applicant’s academic record, scholarly awards and honors, and potential to excel in his/her field of study. 
  • Leadership experience and community engagement: The committee is looking for applicants who are engaged in the university and wider community and who have demonstrated leadership in their field of interest. Community engagement may include active participation in sports, arts, student government, voluntary associations, and other extracurricular activities. 
  • Potential for the proposed project to have a transformational impact on the student and society: The committee is interested in projects that make a meaningful impact on the student’s academic experience and promote the public good. 
Application Advice

The application process is a marathon, not a sprint. Plan well in advance. Most successful applications are the result of many weeks of planning, correspondence, development, and writing. 

It is important to discuss your project ideas and your Hillcrest application with Dr. Wang well in advance of the application deadline so that he can provide guidance and feedback on your application.  

The selection committee is comprised of faculty members from different academic units as well as members of the Honors Advisory Council, who provide the funding for these awards. Keep in mind that committee members will almost certainly not be experts in your field and you will need to describe your proposed experience in a manner that resonates with people from a variety of disciplinary and professional backgrounds. Do not assume deep knowledge of your discipline. If there are specific concepts, problems, or issues related to your field that are important to cover in your project proposal, explain them to your audience. 

Remember that the committee is as interested in the transformational impact of your project on society as on you, the student. Try and address the questions, “Why does this matter?” or “Who will this help?” 

Apply for the Hillcrest Scholarship

Deadline for application is November 15 each year.

Preparation: It is strongly recommended that students begin the application process well in advance of the deadline. Ideal applicants will use the preceding summer to develop their ideas and application materials. Contact Dr. Felix Wang to disucss the scholarship application process.   

Faculty mentor: If applicable, applicants should select a faculty mentor to support and guide them through this process. The faculty mentor’s role includes helping the applicant develop a feasible project and writing a letter of recommendation. 

Apply through Madison Scholarship Hub, which is available in MyMadison under the student tab. In the Hub, select the Hillcrest Scholarship Fund. You must complete a General Scholarship Application before applying to Hillcrest. 

The application includes the following materials, which you will upload to Madison Scholarship Hub. 

  • Project proposal 
  • Resume 
  • Unofficial Transcript 
  • Letter of recommendation from the faculty mentor (if applicable) 

Project proposal and personal statement should be written in 12 pt. Times New Roman font, single-spaced, 1-inch margins. 

Project proposal (2 pages) 

This document details the proposed experience, your preparation for it, and how it fits into your academic/professional trajectory. This is the most important component of a successful Hillcrest application. You want to present a project that is intellectually-compelling, has the potential to be transformative for you and others, and is logistically feasible. (See below for selection criteria.) You should strive to find the balance between aiming high in terms of ambition and impact and keeping it grounded in realistic expectations for viability. Convince your readers that it is transformative and feasible. 

You might address some of the following questions: 

  • Where do you propose to go? 
  • What do you propose to do? 
  • Why this particular project in this particular location? 
  • What makes this project interesting or unique? 
  • How does this project advance, challenge, or support current scholarship in your chosen field? 
  • What are your specific goals? 
  • If your project is related to your Honors thesis, how will the project impact or enhance progress on your thesis? 
  • What is the timeline for carrying out your project? 
  • How are you qualified academically or professionally for undertaking this project? 
  • Have you made contact with relevant people or institutions at the proposed location of your project? If the project involves a formal application, what stage of the process are you currently in? 
  • Are there any possible feasibility concerns with your project? 
  • How will this project further your educational and/or professional development? 

If your project involves travel abroad, consider the following questions: 

  • Are language skills important in your host country? If so, what is your level of proficiency? 
  • If your language skills are not currently adequate, what are your plans for improving them? 
  • Are there security or safety risks associated with travel in your host country? How will you work through or around these concerns? 
  • Given the uncertainties during COVID-19, what domestically-based activities could you pursue as a backup in case you are unable to travel abroad? 

Try to provide as many details as you can while also writing clearly and concisely. Successful Hillcrest applicants revise their proposals multiple times prior to submission. Successful applicants also have their materials critiqued by others: your faculty mentor, Dr. Wang, the Office of Fellowships and Awards, and the University Writing Center are all excellent places to start receiving feedback. 

Letter of recommendation from faculty mentor (if applicable) 

The letter should specify how the applicant meets the selection criteria and discusses the feasibility and merit of the applicant’s proposed project. The letter must be on institutional letterhead. Give your faculty mentor at least 3 weeks to complete the letter. 

Examples of Successful Hillcrest Projects

The following projects represent the broad range of experiences that Hillcrest Scholarships support. View 2021-22 and 2020-21 recipients for more information about their projects and experiences. 

Note: Hillcrest Scholarships can support projects involving international travel, but this is not a requirement nor, for the purposes of applying, a preference. Many Hillcrest Scholars undertake domestically-based work.  

  • Conduct biological research in the field in Canada and in the lab at JMU on the reproductive strategy of female mimicry in garter snakes. 
  • Develop deeper understanding of the field of contract law through an internhip at a major law firm in Richmond. 
  • Take intensive Japanese language and culture courses in Osaka, Japan in order to prepare for future scholarship in Japanese history. 
  • Serve as research assistant to a prominent scholar in the field to gain valuable background experience for honors thesis. 
  • Experimental dance training at a prominent dance studio in British Columbia. 
  • Intern at a major financial institution in New York and conduct thesis research on impact investing funds. 
  • Gain valuable experience in veterinary science as a volunteer at a vet clinic in Fiji. 
  • Participate in prestigious opera academy in Berlin to further develop vocal performance skills. 
  • Conduct research on psychological mindsets in partnership with US Soccer, in Charlottesville. 
  • Participate in 16-week study abroad program on economic development in Cameroon. 
  • Intern at MicroSociety International headquarters in Philadelphia and research the links between the MicroSociety model and civic engagement. 
  • Examine sustainable urban living in The Netherlands and Spain through a Council on International Educational Exchange summer study abroad program. 
  • Develop, implement, and evaluate two health promotion interventions in Kampala, Uganda and Nairobi, Kenya. 
  • Investigate the ecology of the understudied and threatened plant Solanum conocarpum on the island of St. John in Virgin Islands National Park. 
  • Develop and diversity skills set in hospitality management through an internship at a property management company in Boston. 

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