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San Diego, Cota Robles, and SEED Fellowship Program

Eligibility Criteria

Candidates for all three fellowships must have responded to at least two of the optional prompts in the online application. Successful applicants must have demonstrated at least one of the following:

Overcome barriers in prior educational experience:

  • Applicant has successfully overcome significant educational, social, cultural, or economic disadvantage or barriers in a way that would enable him or her to contribute to the campus community in a manner that enhances campus diversity.

Contributions to diversity in prior educational experience

  • Applicant has shown a deep commitment to working with others, through such activities as mentoring or tutoring, to promote educational access to higher education for underserved groups.

Academic pursuit aims to address issues of diversity

  • Applicant has a strong interest in undertaking research that would address issues of diversity as it relates to ethnic communities, social equity and justice, or economic opportunity

Personal characteristics that would enhance diversity of the program/department

  • Applicant has unique circumstances, experiences, skills, or talents that would be of benefit to others and would enhance the diversity in the discipline, program or campus.

The very strongest often demonstrate experiences more than one of these areas.

SEED Fellowship:  Nominees for the SEED Fellowship must also have graduated from a Minority Serving Institution. Lists of these institutions may be found on the following websites:

Cota Robles fellowship nomination letters must also articulate outstanding academic merit for the field based on other components of the application such as the personal statement, letters of recommendation, grades etc.

Application Review and Developing the Nomination

Read the responses to the optional prompts provided in the online application.  Fellowship nominees must have responded to at least two of the prompts. 

Read the statements of purpose with care to make the strongest case for the applicant.

When evaluating an application, divide the information into two parts: (1) barriers overcome on the path to higher education; and (2) commitment to diversity, demonstrated through activities undertaken, experiences had, skills obtained, and research planned to promote the interests of underserved groups in the U.S.

Feel free to supplement your knowledge by talking with prospective students about their experiences and research. If additional information about the student surfaces during your conversation, it may be beneficial to the student’s application to both include it in your nomination letter and to ask the student to add to the information to their own responses.

Writing the Nomination Letter

How to Demonstrate Barriers

In practice, barriers overcome on the path to college are highly variable, but the committee is inclined to view the following factors as positive evidence:

  • Education in a school or college with limited facilities and educational opportunities.
  • A low family income or a record of working full time in high school or as an undergraduate to support family and/or to pay for college.
  • The student is the first member of immediate family to complete college.
  • Overcoming other social, cultural or economic barriers to pursue an education. The specific race, ethnicity, gender, or national origin of a nominee is not considered in selection, although education obstacles resulting from these personal circumstances are considered.

In your nomination letter, you should be sure to draw the committee’s attention to the parts of the student’s personal history which most clearly demonstrate some of the circumstances mentioned above.

Example 1

“[Student] is the son of Mexican immigrants who arrived in Southern California in the 1960s and found work in the shipyards and vegetable packing plants of Long Beach. Growing up in a working class Mexican neighborhood, [student] attended public schools that offered limited educational opportunities. In order to avail himself of a higher quality education, he was bused out of his neighborhood to a high school with a magnet program for minority students…Though his mother had only a third grade education and his father never finished high school, he completed his B.A. in Ethnic Studies at UCSD in 2013, becoming the first male in his family to earn a college degree.”

What the committee liked: This matter-of-fact recounting of the applicant’s educational experience qualified exactly what barriers he faced and supplemented facts which were somewhat less explicit in the applicant’s own statement. While the committee is inclined to look favorably on students who have encountered barriers, we are inclined to look even more favorably on students who demonstrate specifically how they have overcome them.

Example 2

“[Student] immigrated to the United States from his native Brazil in 2010. Before he could pursue higher education in the U.S., he first had to become proficient in English, a goal he accomplished largely through his own efforts and a few free language classes…UC San Diego was barely affordable for him. Financial aid and grants helped, but he also had to work as a delivery driver in order to support himself and his family, which now included his newborn daughter. Balancing the requirements of school, work, and family responsibilities was a challenge, but he obviously met that challenge successfully, for he earned a GPA of 3.91 at UC San Diego. He also participated in the McNair program in order to prepare for graduate study.”

What the committee liked: We always like to see McNair participation and what it indicates about the student’s intellectual seriousness and ability to do research, but the sheer weight of the obstacles this student overcame, and the success he achieved afterwards, were what really made him a strong candidate. His record also shows evidence of long-term planning for graduate school. The letter writer paired the applicant’s barriers and how he overcame them in a single, coherent paragraph.

Example 3

“He is the child of Guyanese immigrants. He grew up in the LA suburb of Inglewood where gangs and gun fire were part of the daily landscape. He attended Morningside High School, which he notes ‘excelled at turning out basketball champions,’ but where tax revenues didn’t support the purchase of adequate textbooks. In his statement of purpose, he shows how he has been able to use the experience gained through negotiating these difficult circumstances to strengthen his conviction to succeed. He is inspired by Robin Kelly’s notion of a ‘third eye’ which theorized how he was able to see a better way of life in the midst of a desperate situation.”

What the committee liked: Please pull information from the student’s personal statement (in addition to their responses to the prompts) if you think it will help, as the committee.

Again, the letter writer here didn’t just write that the applicant attended a bad school: he specified exactly how and why it was a bad school. This is particularly important to do in the case of students who are coming from areas outside of California that may be unfamiliar to the committee.

How to Demonstrate Commitment to Diversity

The fellowship is intended to encourage students with diverse personal experiences to attend UCSD, as well as to provide support to students who will contribute to their classmates’ educational enrichment. Because graduate students pursue different paths, the San Diego Fellowship committee provides multiple ways to demonstrate their potential contributions to campus life. For instance, has the student

  • Successfully overcome significant educational, social, cultural, or economic disadvantage or adversity in a way that would contribute to organizations on campus?
  • Experienced unique circumstances or acquired skills and talents that would be of benefit to others and would broaden the range of your discipline, program, or the campus?
  • Shown a strong interest in undertaking research that would address issues important to ethnic communities, social equity and justice, or economic opportunity?
  • Demonstrated a deep commitment to working with others, through such activities as mentoring or tutoring, to promote educational access to higher education for underserved groups?
Example 1

The best candidates often demonstrate one or more of these qualities through the nature of their research, to which you, in the broader context of the department and the discipline as a whole, are particularly qualified to speak. The best letter writers often present this in the context of the student’s personal experiences and their reasons for undertaking their particular research:

“She has managed to transform the obstacles facing a first-generation college student from a working-class family into a profound engagement with the history of indigenous Mexico, academic success, and meaningful community service…As she explains in her personal statement, her initial interest in Mexico was sparked by her experience and that of her parents working alongside Mexican immigrants in the food service and hospitality industries. Listening to co-workers and friends discuss all of the injustices, large and small, of the immigration system piqued her interest in Spanish and Mexican history...Her interests in the history of Mexico and the plight of Mexican migrants in the contemporary United States came together in her prize-winning study of the village of Acastinga in rural Veracruz, Mexico.”

What the committee liked: By elaborating on the genesis of her intellectual interests by highlighting her personal experiences, the letter writer managed to combine her barriers and her commitment to diversity in one single, compelling case for her nomination.

Example 2

“Few applicants to our program have such a long record of community activism and such a clearly demonstrated commitment to equality and social justice. This commitment informs his proposed thesis research into Latin American immigration to the U.S. and would also enable him to serve as a link between UCSD and the community and high school where he has worked for many years. He would be an invaluable resource for promoting diversity at UCSD.”

What the committee liked: Putting applicants in the context of the other students in the department can be helpful, as it was in this case. Although many applicants to this program come from what we call diverse backgrounds, this particular student also has a long record of working in the community that his research will serve. This equips him well to do the kind of research he proposes.

Example 3

It is also possible to demonstrate commitment to diversity even if a student’s research doesn’t perfectly dovetail with his/her volunteer work, as in this example:

“He taught himself programming by using the computer at the high school library because his family could not afford one. He attended the state school and did well there. When he arrived at USC, he had to deal with a reportedly quite racist roommate…[Student] has worked to overcome these obstacles by establishing a program at USC to help students understand different cultures. He started a program at USC to promote diversity education called ‘Small World.’ It was designed to expose popular stereotypes and misconceptions that are often held towards individual from nations poorly portrayed in the media. ‘Small World: Afghanistan’ was awarded the distinction of Best Diversity Program of October 2015 in PACURH, an organization consisting of universities along the Pacific Coast, including Alaska and British Columbia, as well as Australia. He has also worked to mentor at-risk youths in Los Angeles.”

What the committee liked: This applicant, from the Sciences and Engineering division, was not working on research that would benefit any underrepresented group, but the narrative which established how his award-winning organization and mentoring experiences were motivated by his own experience with poverty and discrimination proved that he would continue to promote diversity education at UCSD through his

extracurricular activities.

Example 4

“[Student] has been mentoring and tutoring elementary and middle school students since high school. At Notre Dame University, she helped establish a program called ‘Next Stop: College,’ which encouraged inner-city Chicago youth to see higher education as a viable option for them…she also tutored Spanish-speaking adults in ESL classes through the Community Alliance to Serve Hispanics, and helped organize an educational outreach initiative of the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Labor Relations aimed at Mexican immigrants in South Bend…Because she has spent the past year and a half doing volunteer service work, she will not be able to come to UCSD without the significant financial support a San Diego Fellowship would provide.”

What the committee liked: The applicant did not have particularly formidable barriers, but the sheer volume of her community service (some of which was omitted above) was more than enough to compensate for this. The length and seriousness of her commitment to underserved groups was thoroughly documented by the letter writer, and the final line made a clear and compelling case for why this extensive service work should merit a fellowship.

Example 5

Diversity can also exist in the context of a department or program. One applicant to the music program explained that he is unique in the context of traditional music studies because he traveled internationally as an “improvising, modern musician” and planned to focus on “European modern music” as a result of previous collaborations with interpretive dancers and aerialists. This fact was borne out in the nomination his department wrote for him, which mentioned that, in addition to his improvisation (which was unique within the department), he was also one of the few students from an economically disadvantaged background. If you choose diversity within the context of your department to fit this category, please be sure that you mention how this kind of diversity will benefit the department in your letter. Because you know the entire applicant pool and all of the current students, you are best able to say more about where the student fits than the student can.

Weaknesses we see in this component of the application generally involve failing to show the extent and level of involvement in volunteer experiences. While growing up in a diverse community or serving as an undergraduate TA to a diverse population are admirable pursuits, the committee expects to see active efforts to serve that are outside the ordinary purview of beginning graduate students.

Final Note

The student’s academic record is important to the university, and if it demonstrates part of the “diversity” component of the application, you should discuss it. However, departments typically nominate academically outstanding candidates. Very little academic variation exists in the nomination pool, and any differences in levels of academic performance among otherwise equally qualified candidates will be used solely to determine whether to award either a San Diego or a Cota-Robles Fellowship. Spend the bulk of your time talking about the applicant’s barriers and contribution to diversity. Evaluation of the application is holistic, not based on any single factor.

Good luck!Image Added