MISSOULA – Understanding how seaweed responds and adapts to its environment isn’t all that different from providing University of Montana students guidance and support in reaching their full potential, according to Kylla Benes, a marine ecologist and UM’s director of prestigious scholarships.
After all, both UM students and ocean plant life must prepare for ever-changing tides.
Benes, who holds a doctorate in marine ecology from the University of California Irvine and spent years studying biology in marine labs on both coasts, has transitioned to immersing herself in mountains – and UM students’ futures.
The University has named her its newest director of external scholarships and fellowships, where she will oversee UM’s submission of national and international scholarships such as the Fulbright, Udall, Boren, Rhodes and Knight-Hennessy, in addition to other prestigious fellowships and scholarships.
“UM students are immensely curious, driven and fully engaged in their academic and extracurricular pursuits,” Benes said. “This position is a melding of advising and mentoring and I’m thrilled to support students in reaching their full potential.”
Having worked as a postdoctoral teaching, research and mentoring fellow in the Davidson Honors College for the past three years, Benes said the position felt like a natural fit. She even transitioned her academic career as a scientist for the opportunity to bolster UM’s prestigious scholarship profile.
Applying for prestigious scholarships takes a lot of time, dedication and support, Benes said, but UM students are ripe for the competition.
“Most of the big applications are looking for all-around solid applicants both personally and professionally,” she said. “They want students who can talk the talk and walk the walk, who are engaged, community-oriented, global thinkers and have leadership positions. So much of those experiences are inherently weaved into the UM experience.”
UM’s unique academic programs and cornerstone commitment to the liberal arts are sources of strength when it comes applications and candidates, Benes added.
“UM students ꟷ from any discipline or background ꟷ can have intelligent conversations, because they have a bit of training in a lot of subjects, and that’s something that can set them apart,” she said.
Benes herself knows how important external funding can be for students. Having received moderate amounts of funding throughout her time as a graduate student, she said the financial support allowed her to cover research expenses.
“Any bit helps when you’re a student,” she said. “As an undergraduate, I didn’t know about these big, renowned scholarship opportunities, but once you receive even the smaller amounts, it’s validating.”
While applying for a major scholarship can be a daunting experience and intimidating for some students, Benes sees equal value in the application process – as she does in being selected. She said she supports students the whole way through applications, from big-picture goals, to the line-by-line editing of personal essays.
“There is immense value in thinking critically about your future goals, reflecting on what makes you a unique candidate and just going through the process of honing where you’ve been and where you want to go,” she said. “It can be a powerful stepping stone to other avenues.”
And, in the end, if a student is a finalist, but not awarded the scholarship, Benes said that should be highlighted on a student’s resume anyway, because the alumni network of prestigious scholarships and fellowships is wide and deep and can “help promote a UM student to their next job, opportunity or network.” Additionally, Benes said the amount of faculty mentorship and engagement UM students receive is something that can help bolster scholarship and fellowship applications.
“Scholarships are competitive and can be intimidating, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying,” Benes said. “As long as applicants meet eligibility requirements, there shouldn’t be any hesitation. We’re here to help them every step of the way.”
Embedded in the DHC, Benes said her office has an “open door policy” and she hopes to meet and work with as many UM students “who want to think and dream big” as possible.
Contact: Kylla Benes, UM director of prestigious scholarships, 406-243-5241, firstname.lastname@example.org.