Helping Students Open Doors

In a new role with DavisConnects, Milan Babík wants to make sure students are aware of the programs and scholarships available to them

Milan Babík ’01 has taken a new position as the associate director of student engagement and fellowship advising with DavisConnects.
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Jasper Lowe
November 9, 2023

Milan Babík ’01 knows first-hand the impact financial scholarships and awards can have on students as they navigate their post-college steps. 

As an international student from the Czech Republic, he depended on funding from outside sources to explore the world beyond Colby and attend graduate school. 

“Fellowships and graduate stipends and scholarships were the only way,” said Babík, the new associate director of student engagement and fellowship advising at DavisConnects, who completed his graduate education at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Oxford.

Now, through his new position, he aims to help students succeed at this, too. 

The former visiting assistant professor of government will consult and work closely with students, encouraging them to apply and helping them increase their chances of winning fellowships, scholarships, and other awards, including the George J. Mitchell Scholarship Program, the Rhodes Scholarship, the Marshall Scholarships, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, and more. 

He wants to make sure students know about all the possible programs and scholarships that are available and how to best position themselves to apply. 

“When I talk to these students, I can tell them using my own personal experience just how transformative these awards can be and what kind of a difference they can make,” he said.

With plenty of competition, winning those fellowships and scholarships is not a simple task. But it can be a great experience for students just to apply, Babík said. Most of the applications ask students to write a personal statement, in which they reflect on who they are, what drives them, and what they want to achieve. 

“It allows them to take stock of themselves,” he said. “That in itself has a very clarifying and positive role in their future development.” 

And finding clarity of purpose can lead to exciting places. Consider the Watson Fellowship, a one-year grant for purposeful, independent exploration outside the United States, which is awarded to graduating seniors who conceive original projects and embrace the journey to explore and develop them. In the application, students are asked what convinced them to apply for the fellowship and how they hope to benefit from the year of travel and growth. It’s important that they have a well-developed answer, Babík said. 

“Most of these fellowships, if you have a 3.7 grade point average, that’s not going to distinguish you,” he said. “It’s that unique, idiosyncratic, personal and career narrative that’s going to set the winners apart.” 

For example, Jordan McClintock ’22, Colby’s 66th Watson Fellow, who spent her year traveling to a dozen countries to gain new perspectives on family refugee healthcare, took inspiration for her project from her mother’s experience coming to the United States from Central America in 1971—alone and only 6 years old.

McClintock’s year of traveling and learning was unforgettable, and powerful. 

“The Watson Fellowship cannot be boiled down to a fellowship, or grant, or award. It is an experience that makes you connect with yourself and the world around you through your project,”  she said this week. “The stories from displaced communities were incredible, and devastating, to learn and I am so honored to have been privy to them. The Watson has given me the courage to embrace discomfort and take on the world.”

In his new role, Babík also will work directly with the students who are in Colby’s Presidential Scholars Program, which offers benefits to the top students in each incoming class. He’s hoping there will be crossover opportunities. 

“There would seem to be nice opportunities to build a fellowships pipeline,” he said. “If we have these high-achieving students coming in, they would be among the first ones that I would want to talk to as they begin their college careers, and start stressing to them that fellowships could be on their radar.” 

As well, he will continue to run the popular Jan Plan study abroad program in Prague, Writers Against the State. Last year, more than 80 students applied for the program’s 16 spots. This coming Jan Plan, Babík and the Colby students will go to important sites including the Václav Havel Library, the National Museum, the Libri Prohibiti archive, the Museum of Czech Literature, and theaters, pubs, and cafés that used to be underground dissident hangout spots. 

“It’s really nice to see that students come away just really in a totally different frame of mind,” he said. “And in many cases, it puts them on a very different trajectory, which then turns into internships, and professional opportunities, and really defines their subsequent life path.”