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Bill Gates has proven again that he is indeed a quick study. In the midst of a massive antitrust lawsuit, Gates just single-handedly broke up a 98-year-old monopoly. Yesterday, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it had endowed a $210 million trust to fund graduate scholarships to Cambridge University, which may break the Rhodes Scholarship's monopoly as the top academic fellowship for U.S. undergraduates. The program will allow upward of 225 students from around the world to matriculate in Cambridge's graduate programs. The award covers the cost of tuition, travel and related expenses for a maximum of four years of study. The generosity of the gift and the value of the prize are expected to make this one of the most coveted awards in academic circles. Unfortunately, if history is any indication, few Penn students will bother applying. As the University flies upward in the U.S. News rankings, we can't seem to back up our academic prestige with an elusive Rhodes Scholarship. Sadly, Penn has not been graced with the pleasure of a Rhodes since 1991, a fact that must give Rodin and Barchi nightsweats. As of late, this trend has begun to turn around. Last year, the University proudly paraded around then-senior Andrew March when he won a Marshall Scholarship to study political philosophy at Oxford -- Penn's first Marshall in a decade. An impressive feat, but without the intellectual je ne sais quoi of the Rhodes. The quest for bragging rights led Penn to found the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships last semester. The center is part of Rodin's mandate, implemented by Barchi, to secure more notches for the University's intellectual bedpost, and is headed by former Harrison College House Dean Art Casciato. CURF, located on Locust Walk, has already implemented drastic changes in the application process for graduate fellowships -- an impressive feat given that the center has only one phone, is prone to the vile odor of broiling meat emanating from the Palladium and had to make a Bookstore run yesterday to make sure it had enough envelopes to mail out this year's Rhodes applications on time. It is under these dire conditions that Casciato and Associate Director Clare Cowen have begun to overhaul the way Penn students apply for fellowships. For starters, Casciato streamlined Penn's screening process for the Rhodes Scholarship. He reduced the volume of paperwork candidates must submit, instead putting his focus on helping them fine-tune their applications. The centralized resources of CURF allowed each applicant to revise their plans of study and personal statements one-on-one with Cowen. A current Rhodes applicant said that it made the process remarkably supportive and the odds of winning the award -- 1 in 30 -- less daunting. Casciato and Cowen also prepared candidates for the grueling Rhodes interview process by re-creating the event at the Inn at Penn during pre-screening. In less than two months of operation, CURF has become a fellowship incubator aiding students with not only the Rhodes but also the Marshall, Fulbright, Churchill and Thouron awards. Once the current round of applications is mailed safely, CURF will turn its attention toward increasing the number and quality of candidates in the future. In November, CURF will begin building what amounts to a scholarship farm system by conducting information sessions on graduate fellowships with all students, including freshmen. The intent is to breed a culture where students don't receive a diploma and automatically enter banking or consulting. The lack of applications is the primary reason that we rarely wins such awards. Penn averages 10 Rhodes applications a year, while Rhodes titans, like Harvard, have more than 40. (It should be noted that perhaps we have a smaller number of Rhodes applicants because the Thouron Award, unique to Penn, gives a similar scholarship to any British university. Since the Thouron usually sees 50 applicants, of whom one in 10 will receive an award, it is generally thought that this greatly reduces the number of Rhodes applicants from Penn.) Cowen, however, was adamant that the Thouron should not be an excuse for students not to seek the Rhodes, but an opportunity for Penn students to win even more fellowships -- and she is right. It would be wonderful for Penn to christen CURF this year with an inaugural Gates Scholar. The application is due November 30, and Art Casciato and Clare Cowen are waiting to help.

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