Winning honors: Celebrating 25 years of ONCA

The Office of Nationally Competitive Awards has been helping scholars pursue grants, scholarships and research support since 1999.

April 16, 2024


Featuring grateful alumni testimonials from across the world, the Ohio University Office of Nationally Competitive Awards (ONCA) celebrated its 25th anniversary during an end-of-year dinner April 11. Established in 1999 to assist students through the application process for awards such as Fulbright, Critical Language, Goldwater, Truman, and Udall scholarships, ONCA has worked with more than 2,500 students, and continues to see its students achieve great things.

“ONCA helps students clarify their goals, clarify the value of their past experiences, clarify their own strengths, and to do so through writing and imagining future pathways for themselves,” said Christopher Lewis, director of ONCA.

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The anniversary celebration brought current students, alumni, faculty and staff together to reminisce and catch up with old friends.

 Christopher Lewis speaks at a lectern

ONCA director Christopher Lewis addresses the crowd that gathered to celebrate the office's anniversary.

Celebrating success

ONCA works with 100-125 students every year, each of whom receive one-on-one support from the office. More than 160 have received grants through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, 25 from the Goldwater Scholarship, 12 from the Udall Scholarship, 40 from the Critical Language Scholarship, and approximately 40 from the DAAD RISE Germany program, among many others, since 1999. 

In addition to enhancing educational and cultural experience as well as research expertise, the programs typically provide funding for travel, tuition and other benefits. 

“Many of these programs are among the most competitive in the country and select anywhere from twenty to one percent of applicants annually,” Lewis said. “And regardless of the outcomes of their competitions, every applicant strengthens their skills as writers, self-advocates, and ambassadors for their work via the application process.”

HTC Interim Dean Beth Novak speaks to someone whose back is to the camera
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Honoring a founder

In a video celebrating ONCA's first 25 years, students, staff and alumni describe the commitment to student support, growth and success that lies at the heart of the office. Much credit and gratitude goes to Ann Brown, the office's first director.

At the celebration event, Ann Brown, who was the first director of the office in 1999, was honored with a surprise video featuring OHIO alumni and current students who won awards with ONCA’s help. Brown reminisced about her experience founding the office and working with high-achieving students, many of whom were new to navigating the kinds of awards to which ONCA and Brown introduced them. 

“At Ohio University, many [students] were first-generation, many underprivileged,” Brown recalled. “My job was to help them…believe in themselves.”

In the video, the alumni who worked with Brown as students shared their memories and expressed gratitude for her encouragement and support.

“I clearly remember sitting in Ann’s office as a college freshman and her really pressing me to make the most of the opportunities I had before me,” said Annie Valente, BS ’06. “She leveled the playing field for me.”

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Ann Brown (right), who founded ONCA in 1999, was the subject of a surprise video featuring testimonials and thank-you messages from many of the students she worked with during her time in the office, as well as students who have benefitted from ONCA's support in the years since Brown retired.

Natalie Kruse Daniels, an OHIO alumna, professor of environmental studies and director of the University’s environmental studies program, worked with Brown and ONCA as an undergraduate student and shared stories of Brown’s attention to detail.

“I was really fortunate to be successful in getting a Marshall scholarship and Ann was by my side that whole way,” she said.

For Kruse Daniels, ONCA support went beyond help with her application essay.

“I remember asking [Ann] before my interview in Chicago how to get a taxi,” she said. “Down to that detail, she was there for us and shepherded us through that process.”
Brown summed up her experience as founder of the celebrated campus institution.

“The kids were awesome,” she said. “They worked so hard.”