Meet Erica Kowsz, our new Assistant Director for Fellowships!

Erica Kowsz stands against a white background.

Erica Kowsz, Assistant Director for Fellowships at the Fries Center

Stop by and say hi to our new Assistant Director for Fellowships, Erica Kowsz! Kowsz has a long track record working with students on fellowship applications and a wealth of personal experience with fellowships. She is a recipient of a Beinecke Scholarship, a Fulbright research grant in Canada, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and a Mellon dissertation writing fellowship. In 2017-2019, she traveled to the Norwegian Arctic on a Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) fellowship through the Norwegian Research Council and the US National Science Foundation.

Kowsz comes to Wesleyan from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she recently defended her dissertation in the Department of Anthropology (read about her research here). Kowsz has a long track record working with fellowship applicants from her years at UMass, most notable those applying to for Fulbright and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. At the Fries Center, Kowsz will focus on fellowships outreach, advising, and application processes. This spring, she is also teaching the capstone course for seniors completing the Global Engagement Minor. In mid-February, Kowsz answered a few questions for Wes and the World:

What should students know about you?

First of all, how to pronounce my last name! It’s pronounced just the same as “cows”—yup, just like the animal. I’ll always be a little disappointed that even though two of the three of us got PhDs, none of my sisters went into veterinary medicine. Dr. Kowsz seems like the perfect name for the world’s next James Harriet.

What attracted you to a career in fellowships advising?

A few things, really. First, I love working with motivated students who are in the process of hashing out their life paths. Secondly, I think applying for fellowships is a unique way for young people to learn critical skills that will serve them on a variety of professional paths. I trace much of the success in graduate level research to my early exposure to writing fellowship applications and grant proposals as an undergraduate at Hamilton College. I worked my way up from applying for summer research and student travel funds to applying for prestigious national fellowships in my junior and senior year. Learning to find the right funder for a project and to articulate my goals and plans in a compelling way helped me to fund a whole series of projects, from a documentary film to Masters and PhD fieldwork in three countries. While I do think these skills are important for those pursuing an academic path, I think the experience of applying to fellowships as an undergraduate is much more broadly relevant. So many careers—from the arts, to the academy, to the business world—require successfully pitching your idea to the people and organizations that can support you. If you want to chase your dreams, you’re going to need to get others on board. Applying to fellowships while you’re at Wesleyan is a great way to start to learn this skill early on. Here, you have the support of peers, mentors, and people like me, whose goal it is to help you learn from the process, and hopefully to win that first fellowship, too.

On a second level, I think the kinds of international and intercultural experiences that many fellowships center on are transformative, especially for young people finishing their undergraduate degrees and stepping out into the wider world. Because I pursued fellowships, I met people I never would have met, saw places I never dreamed of seeing, even learned a new language. (I’m hoping someone at Wesleyan will be looking for a language buddy for Norwegian someday soon, and I’ll have someone to practice with!) Our arrangement at Wesleyan, where the fellowships office is located within the center for global studies, is unique, and it’s a great match for someone like me who really feels strongly that getting out there and experiencing other cultural contexts is critically important to personal development, as well as being an asset in many professional paths. That said, I’m also coming to Wesleyan with a lot of experience advising on fellowships for graduate study, and I’m excited about connecting with students about those opportunities, too.

Beginning in earnest after spring break, Kowsz will be launching into a series of information sessions and outreach events about fellowships with fall deadlines. Getting started early is key, so she hopes to reach students well before they leave campus for summer. Some of these events will give an overview of the many opportunities with deadlines coming up in the fall, while others will focus on a specific opportunity, like Fulbright or the Watson Fellowship. If you are interested in learning more about future fellowship opportunities, the spring schedule for fellowships outreach events can be found here.