Honors Fellowships

Honors Fellowships Enhance W&M Education

When Brian Focarino ’11 secured a William & Mary Honors Fellowship and embarked on research the summer before his senior year, he wasn’t the only one impressed that his college, and the generous donors who supported his work, focused so intently on enhancing his undergraduate experience through research opportunities.


Brian’s mother, Peggy Focarino, also appreciated that he had access to this experience — so much so, in fact, that she is providing support to fully fund an Honors Fellowships project this year, and encourages other parents to do the same.


“I got to see firsthand how Brian benefited from it. I saw the value and I thought that I could help another student experience the same thing,” she said.


Brian calls the Honors Fellowships “William & Mary’s perfect storm.”


“William & Mary Honors Fellowships unite students, faculty, and alumni or friends of the College around a unique and novel idea for an extended period of time,” he said. “That kind of collaboration just isn’t possible at other universities and is what really allows William & Mary to live out being intimate and infinite at the same time.”The William & Mary Honors Fellowships website allows the public to browse undergraduate student proposals for research and make direct contributions to the projects online at http://honorsfellowship.wm.edu. Each Honors Fellowship is supported by a $6,000 stipend, which comes directly from private funds given by donors. Students work closely with faculty advisers during the summer and blog as they complete their research, allowing donors to follow their progress.


Peggy said she was struck with the level of faculty support undergraduates at the College receive from faculty — as honors fellows and beyond.


“The one-on-one interaction they get as undergraduates is priceless,” she said.


Currently earning a master’s degree in linguistics at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Brian was accepted into 12 international graduate programs in linguistics. He believes the schools were influenced by the research he was able to undertake as an undergraduate at William & Mary, including his Honors Fellowship.
Peggy is equally pleased with the opportunities for undergraduate research at William & Mary. She believes research helps students develop the ability to think critically and innovatively, which is important in the working world.


“Developing that kind of approach as early as possible is really critical,” Peggy said. “No matter what path you choose, an Honors Fellowship is going to help you.”


She understands that parents who are already paying tuition to the College might hesitate to provide financial support for initiatives like Honors Fellowships, but the positives of student research outweigh the costs, she said.


“To me, it’s really a small price to pay for the benefit society gains,” Peggy said.


Brian, who will be returning to William & Mary to attend law school this fall, said classmates who participated in Honors Fellowships with him are now “doing incredible things,” including working for Teach for America and even pursuing a Fulbright award.


“By supporting undergraduate research, donors are voting and voicing their support not only for an individual student and his or her research, but also for the entire model that makes William & Mary unlike any university in the country,” he said.