College’s first Stamps Scholars start projects

by Bryn Morgan | 10/14/14 6:20pm

Studying irrigation canals in the ancient city of Teotihuacan, Mexico, and climate change and geopolitical issues in the Arctic, among other projects, six Dartmouth students are using their $10,000 awards by the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation to pursue global research. The five juniors and one senior selected as the College’s inaugural class of Stamps Scholars are planning and launching their projects this fall.

The program typically grants merit-based scholarships to students entering their first year of college but is taking a different shape at Dartmouth. As Dartmouth cannot offer merit-based scholarships, College President Phil Hanlon and his wife, action-based learning programs director Gail Gentes, developed a program that incorporated the scholarship into Hanlon’s experiential learning goals with foundation leaders Penny and E. Roe Stamps.

“Our aim for the scholar awards is for students to be able to pursue a project that stemmed from something that sparked their interest in class, or an experience they had in their first two years at Dartmouth,” Gentes said. “This really gels nicely, just creating another opportunity for students to engage in another experiential learning opportunity.”

Andres Mejia-Ramon ’16, who applied for the scholarship to further his fieldwork in Teotihuacan, said he thinks Dartmouth’s grant-like model is better than awarding an up-front scholarship.

“Instead of investing in someone you hope will be good, you’re investing in someone who already has a plan,” he said.

Mejia-Ramon has worked in Teotihuacan for two summers analyzing satellite images and conducting geophysical studies to locate and confirm the presence of ancient canals. As most College funding is capped at around $5,000, this scholarship will allow him to continue his work without applying for multiple grants, he said. He also noted how rare it is for an undergraduate to direct an excavation.

“Excavations can be pretty expensive,” Mejia-Ramon said. “The Stamps program has provided more than enough money for me to be able to do more geophysics, to find more possible canals and to be able to fund this excavation.”

Leehi Yona ’16 plans to attend conferences focused on Arctic issues and policy, starting with one in Washington, D.C. this Thursday on the country’s agenda in the region.

Yona, who is involved in the youth advocacy organization SustainUs,will build on her work as a presidential research scholar with Dickey Center Institute for Arctic Studies director Ross Virginia.

The scholarship removes financial barriers to experiential learning, she said, and provides valuable connections to scholars at other schools.

“I feel that students at Dartmouth tend to get so absorbed by the bubble that they don’t realize all the opportunities they have to go out and do things,” she said.

Some projects focused on Dartmouth. Rachel Margolese ’16 analyzed the College’s energy use, and Lucia Pohlman ’15 is working to bring locally sourced foods to campus dining halls.

Twenty-eight students applied to the program, which Gentes said was advertised to juniors with high GPAs, as well as through centers, deans and faculty.

Gentes, along with interim vice provost Lindsay Whaley, director of undergraduate advising and research Margaret Funnell and the Dickey Center global health initiative project manager Jessica Friedman, read the applications and interviewed around 10 students.

Though the College planned to nominate five students for the scholarship, the committee could not eliminate any of the six proposals it received, Gentes said. The six students received scholarships after interviews with Roe Stamps.

Roe and Penny Stamps established the program in 2006 at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Michigan, their respective alma maters, before expanding it to institutions across the country. Program director Randy McDow said the scholarship program is unique for its variety of schools and participants. As participants pursue diverse interests, there is a broad network of students involved.

The network of Stamps Scholars gathers for biennial retreats, with the third set to take place this April.

Jetson Leder-Luis, a Stamps Scholar at the California Institute of Technology who graduated last June, said the program fully funded his college education and offered an “enrichment fund” to support opportunities beyond the classroom.

Now a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Leder-Luis said the scholars have pursued various opportunities — while he used money to study abroad at Cambridge University and conduct summer research at Harvard University, another student filmed a documentary in Korea that explored perceptions of plastic surgery.

Looking at other schools’ Stamps Scholars programs, he said that in addition to the tuition-payment model and Dartmouth’s research-based model, some schools choose to emphasize community service. Others have more group bonding.

Yona said Dartmouth’s Stamps Scholars have only had one meeting, noting that some students are currently off-campus. She said the group had dinner with Penny and Roe Stamps at Hanlon’s house last month.

Dartmouth is the first Ivy League university to join the program, and only five or six others have similar Stamps Scholarships.

“Hopefully students involved with our program will be able to bring their experiences back to the classroom,” McDow said, “so that it’s enriching students that are not only directly involved with the Stamps program, but also the other students at partnering schools.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction appended (Oct. 15, 2014):

Yona, notVirginia, is involved with SustainUs.