Our Stories

'Get Paid to Do What You Love'

If Monique Bourque could have it her way, every Willamette student would come through her office at some point before graduation.

"I've met so many interesting and talented students on this campus, but there are also a lot of wonderful people who never make it into my office," says Bourque, director of Student Academic Grants and Awards. "My goals are to reach more students and to reach them earlier in their time here."

Why does she want to talk with them? "The core of my job is helping students apply for awards that need a university nomination," she says. "I work with people who have ideas for projects they'd like to pursue but need help getting funding. I think I have the best job. I spend most of my day meeting interesting students and listening to them talk about their passions."

If you ask those students, they'll tell you she does much more than listen -- although that's important. She is a significant source of information about scholarship and fellowship opportunities for any discipline. She helps students prepare and edit their applications, connects them with faculty for recommendations, prepares them for interviews and mentors them throughout the process.

"Just talking to her is a great idea for anyone because she can help coax out of the recesses of your mind what it is you love," says Nick Woolsey '09, who worked with Bourque on several grant applications. "Then, if you love it enough, she can help you find people who will pay you to do it. Monique offers one of the rarest opportunities in the world to our campus: Get paid to do what you love."

Many universities have a faculty member or staff person who assists students in applying for external grants and scholarships; only a small but growing number have someone like Bourque, who does it full time.

"I tell prospective students and parents they should consider the fact that my position exists," Bourque says. "It's a concrete representation of Willamette's support for helping students figure out what they want to do outside the classroom and after college."

Many of those who have made it into Bourque's office have found great success. Willamette students and alumni continually receive some of the most prestigious awards in the country, including Carnegie, Fulbright, Goldwater, Kellogg, Truman, Udall and Watson fellowships and scholarships.

For the past two years, the Fulbright Program recognized Willamette as one of the top producers of U.S. Fulbright Fellows -- four students and alumni won the award in 2008-09, and 15 have received the grants in the past five years. When Bourque arrived on campus in 2004, Willamette had only four Fulbright applicants. This fall, 20 applied through Willamette, including seven alumni.

"I think Willamette students are naturally a good fit for a lot of fellowship programs," Bourque says. "Our students have a sense of social responsibility, solid intellectual training, curiosity about the world and an understanding that they can make things happen. These are qualities that these programs like."

In addition to the national programs, Bourque also guides students to three internal grant opportunities: Carson Summer Undergraduate Research Grants, which allow students of any discipline to undertake a summer research or creative project; the Presidential Scholarship, which provides one full semester's tuition or a graduate fellowship as well as money for summer research; and the College Colloquium Student Research Grants, available to first-year students interested in pursuing summer research relating to their College Colloquium class.

Despite their many successes, students can't always have winning applications. But just taking the time to apply is a learning experience, Bourque says.

"I try to encourage everyone to think about what I'm doing with the students as a process, and that process is important regardless of the outcome. It gets them thinking about their future, they're practicing writing that is useful for future job applications or grant writing, and they get interview experience while enhancing their critical thinking."

"The incentive to work hard with Monique is different from taking a normal class," Woolsey says. "With Monique you are working hard for yourself, your field of study, your school, your community, your nation and your world. Even if the grant doesn't go through, the process of working hard to open the door to higher learning provides a valuable experience for future situations when it will be necessary to express an idea you are passionate about."