Tackling Shaffer & BOAF Fellowship Essay #2

This blog post was written to be a helpful resource to candidates for the Shaffer and Bank of America Foundation fellowships. Specifically, this post will discuss essay question #2 in the Shaffer and BOAF fellowship application in detail and feature past essays from successful candidates. You can read the blog post on how to write essay #1 here.

First of all, you can access all 7 components of both fellowship applications, see a summary of every single former fellow’s project, read a history of the fellowships, and get more application specifics on both fellowship websites. You can access the fellowships website here. The application is due on Tuesday, September 18 at 5 PM eastern and your application is considered complete when all 7 components, including both letters of recommendation, are emailed in PDF format to me, Katelynn McBride Barbosa.

Let’s start with Shaffer/BOAF application essay #2

The format of this blog post is as follows:

  1. Lists the essay question
  2. Describes my approach to the question
  3. Provides examples of actual past successful essays and why they are effective

Shaffer/BOAF Essay #2: Describe one or two previous public service projects in which you were involved and briefly (300 words) explain their significance.

My approach to this essay question:

This question is asking you to show yourself in action as a public service attorney. The committee wants to be able to visualize you working in your project and your answer to this question can do wonders for making that visualization happen.

As far as what projects to pick, you can pick almost anything from your past, including projects you completed during summer work experiences, externships, or clinics, volunteer projects you completed as part of a student organization on campus, or even volunteer work that is totally non-legal. Whatever you choose, ideally you will pick experiences that are consistent with the work you would be doing in your proposed Shaffer or BOAF fellowship project.

Do not think of this essay in a vacuum. You are not being asked just to discuss  a few public service projects you worked on. You are being asked to discuss a few public service projects you worked on in a way that makes the committee want to fund your proposed fellowship project.

The key here is going into depth so if you worked last summer for NIJC and are proposing an immigration project, it might be best to just describe one project you did for NIJC in detail. Talk about one client’s problem and how you helped them. Pull on the committee’s heartstrings. Tell a good story.

If you have never worked in the area your project is proposing, don’t panic! Pick public service projects that show your passion for public interest and find a way to connect them to your project. If you worked on housing issues last summer and your project proposes helping low-income entrepreneurs, you can talk about how connecting with clients on their housing issues led you to learn more about their lives and hear about their dreams of becoming a small business owner.

The key here is to show your passion for and experience working in public service. If you just cannot think of anything to write, start with a really specific story about a client you helped and how meaningful it was to you to help them.

Successful response #1 to Shaffer & BOAF essay question #2 from a real successful applicant

While serving in the Peace Corps, I wrote and received a grant to educate Bulgarian and Romany youth about preventing and treating HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. After collaborating with a doctor within a large Roma ghetto, we wrote a script, recruited actors and actresses from the community and the Boarding School in the village, and performed a play to educate the community about HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. By using theater as a teaching device, we were able to introduce the children to a sensitive subject in a disarming and engaging fashion. Additionally, we arranged for the actors and actresses to travel to other schools to teach their peers, which simultaneously expanded our audience and provided a safe forum for youth to become educated about an important subject.

This experience was meaningful to me because it showed me that efforts could be magnified by training others. The participants came to realize that they were educating and impacting the lives of their peers. They also gained hope that they had inspired their peers to live healthy lifestyles and gained a sense of leadership within their own communities.

Last year, I worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) to expand their outreach to the law school community. I met with the Outreach Coordinator of BBBS to work on streamlining the application process for law students who have less time to go to the lengthy formalities involved in the application. With the help of Legal Voices for Children and Youth (LVCY), we recruited over fifteen Notre Dame Law Students to serve as big brothers and big sisters. This number will only increase as the new president of LVCY has taken over my role and continues to recruit new law student volunteers.

Serving with BBBS has been exceptionally meaningful for me because of my own little sister, who I am extremely close with. I also had the pleasure of seeing students who had not previously been involved in  community service take an active role in volunteering for a child in need.

Why this essay was effective: 

The applicant’s proposed project was to help sexually exploited children. Her essay focuses 100% on projects she completed that involved working with children and neither of them are legal. But they are effective because the reader walks away from these essays seeing that the candidate is passionate about children because she has spent much of her work experience and volunteer time working with children.

The play on HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis is memorable and effective here for two reasons. First, when working with sexually exploited children, it is probable that the candidate will encounter children with exposure to HIV/AIDS and so they have valuable knowledge of a topic highly relevant to their project. Second, the story shows that the candidate can connect with children about difficult topics in a way that resonates with them. That is the essence of the candidate’s project.

Successful response #2 to Shaffer & BOAF essay question #2 from a real successful applicant

During the summer of 2016, I interned at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in their Law Project. Through the internship, I conducted research and participated in outreach to homeless individuals. The outreach involved working under viaducts with chronically homeless individuals living on the street, working in an overnight shelter for homeless youth and working in family shelters to enroll children in preschool. Alongside an attorney, I would visit the viaducts on the north side of Chicago to meet with homeless individuals and listen to their concerns in order to assist them with various legal needs. I obtained birth certificates and social security cards for homeless youth as well as wrote an advocacy letter for a youth to have access to FAFSA.
The summer after my first year of law school, I interned at the Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights where I assisted a Skadden fellow with her Medical Legal Partnership project. I worked with a 17-year-old homeless mother of a small child whose parents had been deported. The client was in high school and needed public assistance to provide for her baby. She was told that she could not receive food stamps because she was not 18. Through research, I discovered that there was no federal law, state law or regulation that put an age restriction on food stamps. Yet, it had become common practice in Chicago to deny unaccompanied homeless youth food stamps due to their age. This put a serious burden on unaccompanied homeless youth who needed stable food to maintain employment, school and health. I drafted a memo that lead to Healthcare and Family Services and the Department of Health and Human Services releasing a joint memo clarifying that unaccompanied youth could be eligible for food stamps

Why this essay was effective:

Contrasted with essay response #1, essay response #2 uses exclusively legal experiences. Specifically, the candidate pulls from projects she completed during her first and second summers in law school. This applicant was applying to work with Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as her host organization on a project helping homeless youth get access to good education.

Because she is applying to work with CCH, it benefits her to emphasize to the committee that she has already worked at CCH and had a positive experience there. This signals to the committee that the candidate is likely to succeed in their project because she already has a good working relationship with the organization she is proposing to join.

Because her project focuses on homeless youth, she does a good job of emphasizing experiences that she has working with homeless populations and with youth. This essay response is very straightforward because the candidate has worked in the exact areas she is proposing to work on through their project. Don’t be afraid of writing an essay that is on the nose. If your past public service projects square exactly with the work your project is proposing, that is an asset. Make use of it.

Successful response #3 to Shaffer & BOAF essay question #2 from a real successful applicant

While volunteering in a refugee camp as an undergraduate student, I chose to attend law school in order to build a career representing refugees and asylum seekers in the United States. As a law student, I consistently sought opportunities to achieve that goal. The most formative experience occurred when I worked for BADIL, a refugee rights organization in Bethlehem, Occupied Palestinian Territory. While working for BADIL, I lived in Aida Camp, a refugee camp in Bethlehem, and witness first-hand the poverty, marginalization, and oppression of refugees in these camps. In addition, I learned the importance of “home” for those who have been forcibly displaced. For example, the refugee residents of the camp melted the keys to their homes to forge the largest key in the world at the entrance of the camp to symbolize their desire to return to home. My work at BADIL focused on the rights of refugee populations in the West Bank, such as those in Aida, with the ultimate goal of returning them to their homes.

Working and living among refugees prepared me for the unique and complex components of representing asylum seekers in the United States. I have witnessed the plight of forcibly displaced persons, listened to their stories, and learned about their struggles. This invaluable and unique experience informs the manner in which I represent my asylum clients. In particular, I built upon the compassion and cultural sensitivity necessary for gaining the trust of my clients. Just as those residents of Aida were forced to flee their homes and dream of returning one day, the asylum-seekers who arrive in the United States have been forced to leave homes and families behind. Representing them in their asylum cases is the first step in welcoming them to their new home in the United States.

Why this essay was effective:

Unlike the other two essays, this essay focuses solely on one public service project and is a great example of how an essay that just dives deep into one project can be really effective. The candidate’s proposed project involved helping asylum seekers so the public service project they describe in this essay could not be more relevant. The candidate leaves the reader with the memorable vision of the key melted to represent home and the reader leaves with the impression that this candidate is deeply committed to asylum work and has experience working in that area. It is easy to have confidence funding this project after reading this essay.

As you are writing your essays, if you would like to go over them with a CDO counselor, do not hesitate to reach out.

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