After 26 years of service — the last 18 advising students in their pursuit of highly competitive national and international awards — Nebraska’s Laura Damuth will retire in June.
An online reception to celebrate Damuth’s tenure is 1 to 2:30 p.m. May 13. Registration, available here, is required to attend via Zoom.
Damuth has served the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in a variety of capacities, and in multiple locations on campus (she estimates she’s moved offices no fewer than 12 times — including stints in Westbrook, Seaton Hall, Neihardt, Love Library, and the Nebraska Union, among others). She got her start working part time for the Music Library, putting her doctorate in music history to use. In 2000 she took on the task of managing the UCARE program.
At that time, advising for national and international fellowships was diffused across multiple campus units. In 2003, when the university consolidated that advising into one centralized fellowships office, Damuth became the first person to serve as fellowships director for the entire campus community. In addition, she served as associate director of the Honors Program from 2011 to 2017.
As fellowships director, Damuth has personally mentored hundreds of students through the extensive application processes involved with applying for awards, and she has helped earn the university national recognition as a top-producer of several prestigious fellowships. In 2010, Nebraska was selected as a Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation Honor Institution, in recognition of the university’s outstanding record of support for Truman Scholars. Since 2003, Damuth has mentored six of the university’s 17 overall winners, and numerous other finalists.
Nebraska has also been ranked by the U.S. State Department as a Fulbright Top Producing Institution four times in the last decade. Indeed, nearly a third of the students who have applied under Damuth’s guidance have earned Fulbright Awards to research, study or teach abroad. And during her tenure as Director of Fellowships, Damuth has helped students at Nebraska earn 150 Fulbrights, 18 Goldwaters, 34 Critical Language Scholarships, 19 Boren Scholarships, six Truman Scholarships, and two Marshall Scholarships, among many other awards for which she advises.
While these numbers are impressive, the greatest testament to Damuth’s influence are the words of her former students themselves. In recent weeks, an abundance of messages have come in from former Nebraska fellowships applicants now residing around the world.
Those previously mentored by Damuth sent wishes for a long and happy retirement from places as varied as Lincoln, New York City, San Francisco and even Madrid; and from institutions including Yale, Columbia, and MIT where Nebraska alumni now study, research and teach. Among the many students who reflected on their time working with Damuth, one central theme emerged: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without her mentorship.”
“Her guidance and expertise as I was applying for the Goldwater and for other scholarships were really instrumental in getting me started on my path to graduate school, and now to academia,” said Jeff Lopez, a 2012 Nebraska alum and former Goldwater Award winner who also applied for several other awards with Damuth.
Lopez is one of several of Damuth’s former students who expressed a common sentiment: that her mentorship was valuable to them even when they didn’t win the fellowship for which they applied. Through the work, Damuth has focused on helping students clarify their goals and articulate a personal narrative through the application process. She also continues to offer encouragement if an application doesn’t garner a desired result.
Annie Himes, a 2016 Nebraska graduate, reflected on feeling discouraged after several unsuccessful applications for Boren and Critical Language Scholarships. It was Damuth who eventually steered Himes toward the Truman Scholarship and convinced her to apply.
“[Dr. Damuth] helped me find the confidence to be myself, and to imagine and go for opportunities that were so much bigger than anything I could have thought was possible,” Himes said.
Ultimately, Himes went on to win a Truman Award and a Fulbright to Russia.
For her part, Damuth says the best aspect of the job has been getting to know her students on a deep personal level.
“You can’t just walk in and say ‘let’s just do it,’” Damuth said. “You’ve got to get to know them and find out what their dreams are – think about what they’ve been doing and what they could do… I’ve loved doing that.”