JMU in the Community

The atmosphere of JMU

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Michelle Amaya, Melinda Adams and Carly Starke

SUMMARY: The Honors Advisory Council takes a philanthropic approach to the future, establishing the Hillcrest Scholarships. The scholarships provide opportunities for students to take their research and academics beyond JMU into the real world.

When President Jon Alger met with members of JMU's Honors Advisory Council during his "Why Madison?" Listening Tour, he was impressed with their dedication to Madison. "The alumni and parents and friends who serve on the HAC truly are great ambassadors for JMU," he said.

Furthering exceptional academic opportunities
The Honors Advisory Council is a relatively young organization (founded in 2009), but its members, like all good ambassadors, have wasted no time advancing their multifaceted vision of providing highly motivated students exceptional academic opportunities, furthering JMU's reputation for academic excellence, and finding ways to bolster Honors Program resources.

Many HAC members are JMU Honors alumni and eagerly share the ways academic rigor is embodied in the Madison educational experience. Heather Tedesco ('94), now HAC vice chair, says Madison students are encouraged "to become engaged, passionate and self-motivated scholars who are supported by a faculty committed to developing each student to his or her highest potential."

To make good on their desire to increase financial resources for the Honors Program, they started with themselves. The HAC established the Hillcrest Scholarships, which are awarded to outstanding sophomore honors students to support off-campus enrichment experiences that complement classroom learning.

A process with a purpose
In keeping with their vision to champion the academic rigor of JMU programs, they crafted the entire scholarship experience to hone skills and provide opportunities that would place Madison students among the top undergraduates in the country.

Melinda Adams, assistant director of the honors program and JMU prestigious scholarship coordinator, mentors applicants as they prepare their scholarship proposals. "I get to see their ideas go from a "germ' to a developed project," she says. "Putting together a proposal takes time and self-reflection. The resulting discipline clarifies students' interests. ...The Hillcrest Scholarships help students figure out their future," she says.

Tedesco outlines other benefits: "Even the process of applying for the scholarships is beneficial. Students connect with faculty and other mentors, think deeply about their own scholarship contributions, and practice important written and oral communication skills."

The scholarship process provides another vital element for student success. HAC Chair Steven Brown ('84) says, "The students network with JMU alums during the proposal process and after the award. Even those not selected for the scholarship obtain the networking benefit, which can be one of the keys for post-graduate education and future employment."

"Students network with JMU alums during the proposal process and after the award. Even those not selected for the scholarship obtain the networking benefit, which can be one of the keys for post-graduate education and future employment."

Dreams to reality
For the scholarship recipients, the benefits are boundless. "[The scholarship] gives us the chance to take our research, our major, our courses, our lab work beyond JMU into the real world," says Carly Starke ('14), who received the inaugural Hillcrest Scholarship for Research. Her scholarship experience working at the Food and Drug Administration on the development of a new typhoid vaccine gave her a chance to be at the forefront of discovery, and she plans to pursue a career in government research.

As the first recipient of the Hillcrest Scholarship for Service/Leadership, Michelle Amaya ('14) traveled to La Paz, Bolivia, for a hands-on experience with Child Family Health International--a trip that affirmed her passion for global health and her plans to pursue further studies at a medical school. Amaya says, the experience "mark[ed] a milestone in my life."

There seems to be only one drawback.

"We'd love to expand the program," Adams says. "By the time applicants get to the selection process they have done so much work, they've developed intense passion for their proposals. It is very hard to say 'no,'" she says, "because, frankly, they all are deserving."

Tedesco agrees. "The HAC was so inspired by the applications the first year that we chose to fund a third Hillcrest Scholarship the second year," she says. "It is the HAC's hope that we can raise funds to continue to expand the number of Hillcrest Scholarships so that more talented students can be given the opportunity to design and execute their own extracurricular learning experience."

Starke says these scholarships and the spirit of the donors defines Madison. "I sat in on one of the HAC meetings after we had won the scholarships. ... It's the atmosphere of JMU. Everyone wants to give back and contribute to the efforts of others." Brown echoes her enthusiasm for the spirit of connection and engagement of the Madison community. "Being tied to JMU as an institution and to successful alums is the 'glue' that makes our university one of the best in the world," he says.

Honors Advisory Council members know that Hillcrest Scholars are academically gifted, engaged with the world and anxious to contribute to society. And they are looking convinced that the potential future impact of the scholarships is limitless.

Want to help more JMU honors students take their dreams into the world? Give now.

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Published: Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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