When Constance Norris Lacy (’98) re-enrolled at UNT in 1996, she soon found herself “struggling and trying to pay the bills.”
Lacy had first entered the university in 1981 but dropped out to marry. After divorcing, raising children and remarrying, she was determined to finish her bachelor’s degree this time and maybe attend graduate school — provided she could afford it.
A year and a half later, she didn’t need to worry.
In April 1998, Lacy became the first UNT student to receive a Harry S. Truman Scholarship. Established by Congress as the official federal memorial to honor the 33rd president, the $30,000 scholarship is given to students with extensive records of academic achievement and public and community service.
Lacy, who had worked for nine years with organizations that assist high school dropouts and teenage parents, was a great fit for the scholarship.
Today, after receiving her bachelor of social work degree from UNT and earning master’s and doctoral degrees, she’s manager of the Eddie Bernice Johnson Youth & Family Center in Dallas. The center provides mental health and medical services to students in the Dallas ISD.
Lacy heard about the Truman Scholarship from James Duban, director of the UNT Office for Nationally Competitive Scholarships. She remembers writing on her scholarship application that she wanted to manage a nonprofit organization “that works with students and families considered at risk of experiencing so many negative things in life.”
“The Truman Scholarship is about leadership, community service and giving back, and that’s exactly what I’m doing,” she says. “By telling me about the scholarship, Dr. Duban set the destiny for me.”
Duban has helped guide many UNT students through the process of applying for nationally competitive scholarships, including more than 60 scholarship winners.
The students’ biggest successes have been in receiving Barry M. Goldwater Scholarships, which are considered to be among the nation’s most prestigious scholarships awarded to students planning careers in mathematics, science and engineering. The scholarships, established by Congress, provide up to $15,000 for two years of study. UNT students have successfully competed with students at other universities in Texas and other states in winning these scholarships.
But Duban, author of Be a College Achiever: The Complete Guide to Academic Stardom, says there’s more to success in national scholarship competition than the number of winners.
“Students who compete for national scholarships become better writers with better communication skills,” he says. “They also end up having a much better game plan to structure their undergraduate educations and postgraduate options, including graduate school and professional school.”
Duban adds that most students wouldn’t be successful at winning these prestigious awards without the support of
faculty members who direct them through their first research experiences.
“National scholarship competition often rewards research-based undergraduate education made possible by faculty who themselves are immersed in research,” he says.
Tanya Vazquez (’98) says her research mentor, Steven Poe, professor of political science, wouldn’t let her give up when she was applying for a Jacob K. Javits Fellowship.
Created by Congress and named for the former senator, the Javits Fellowship is regarded as the premier award for students planning to earn a doctoral degree in the humanities or social sciences. It provides $15,000 each year for graduate study.
Vazquez, who researched differences in human rights reports from the State Department and Amnesty International, says Poe “made me laugh when I wanted to cry.”
“He’s passionate about what he does. I trusted him with my work and where I was going in life, and it turned out great,” she says.
Vazquez used her fellowship to study at Stanford University and transferred back to UNT to enter the master’s program in international relations and comparative politics. After working as chief of staff to Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, she’s now with an Austin consulting firm that provides campaign services to political candidates.
Haley Hagg Lobland (TAMS ’01) received her Goldwater Scholarship for research she conducted in the Laboratory of Advanced Polymers and Composites at UNT, directed by Witold Brostow, Regents Professor of materials science and engineering.
Five years later, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from other universities, Lobland is back at Brostow’s laboratory. She’s now a UNT doctoral student in materials science, conducting research on tribology — a branch of science and technology concerned with interacting surfaces in relative motion, friction, wear and lubrication.
“Dr. Brostow always treated me with respect,” she says. “He has a nice balance of giving guidance while letting you learn on your own. I always got positive feedback, which is important because when you’re first getting into research, you’re frustrated because you don’t know anything.”
Laura Howe-Martin (’01) also returned to UNT to work with a faculty mentor. As a psychology major and Honors Program student, she conducted research with Sharon Jenkins, associate professor of psychology, for her undergraduate thesis. The two examined the links between mutuality in relationships, gender and depression.
The research helped Howe-Martin win an Ambassadorial Scholarship from the Rotary Foundation to study at the University of Birmingham in England. Since 1999, 24 UNT students or recent graduates have received these scholarships, which provide $25,000 for a full academic year abroad.
After returning to Texas from her year in England, Howe-Martin researched graduate school programs and chose UNT partly to have Jenkins as her major professor.
“I was in a unique position because I had known Sharon for seven years when I interviewed for the clinical psychology doctoral program,” she says. “It’s like we picked up where we left off.”
The ideal education
Duban says gaining a mentor is just one of the benefits that result from the “ideal education” students should plan if they want to successfully compete for national scholarships.
In this ideal education, he says, students should participate not just in research, but also in activities that demonstrate “a broadened world perspective, community outreach and a passionate commitment to their fields of study.”
A prestigious scholarship may be the result, but students “will have already won by having the most creative and productive undergraduate experience they can have,” Duban says.