Olivia Mendelson ’16 is one of just 20 students from around the country to receive this year’s Beinecke Scholarships, which provide students “of exceptional promise” $34,000 for graduate studies in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.
“In addition to how incredibly helpful the scholarship money will be in allowing me to pursue graduate education, getting that vote of confidence that other people believe in my ability to achieve my goals means so much to me," she says. “It uplifted me.”
Before she could even be considered for the scholarship, however, the Honors art history major had to be selected as Swarthmore’s nominee.
“I honestly think I was more intimidated by the thought of going up against my peers than I was about the national selection process,” says Mendelson, of Hyattsville, Md. “Then, when I heard that I made it through the national rounds and would actually be receiving the scholarship, it felt surreal.”
Mendelson outlined her plans to pursue a Ph.D. in modern/contemporary Chinese art history in a personal statement, which she regards the most rewarding aspect of the application process.
“It forced me to think seriously about my future in a way I wouldn’t have done otherwise, and to synthesize my past experiences into a coherent narrative,” she says. “I went into the application process with just a general idea that I want to pursue graduate studies and came out with a clear picture of what I want to study and what kind of career I want to have.”
Mendelson credits Swarthmore’s focus on academics, opportunities for independent study, and close collaborations with faculty from the art history, studio art, and Chinese departments for preparing her for graduate studies. The opportunity to study abroad at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, too, was key.
“It was there that I did most of my thinking about the Beinecke application,” she says. “Studying within a purely art-historical environment composed mostly of graduate students helped me be able to envision myself in a similar position.”
The experience also reinforced her appreciation for exploring the liberal arts at Swarthmore.
“Probably the most important preparation from Swarthmore has been learning to think critically, independently, and across disciplines,” she says.