Undergraduates and educators learned more about the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship during a recent information call featuring 2020 finalist Madeline Medby, a senior studying fashion merchandising and buying at LIM College. Her advice to those considering applying for the scholarship – which awards $25,000 to the top recipient and $10,000 to four other finalists – is to “just go for it.”
Medby reflected on how she balanced the application process with her coursework and internships, the challenges of the case study and what it felt like to be on stage as a finalist with NRF Foundation Scholarships and University Relations Coordinator Annalea Soudry-Maurer. Read a lightly edited excerpt of their conversation or listen to the full discussion below.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: Tell us what motivated you to apply for the Next Generation Scholarship. After you heard about it, what convinced you to go through with the application?
Madeline Medby: I have been on the NRFSA club at school since my freshman year, second semester. I was introduced to it early on and it sounded like an interesting opportunity. Obviously when you're younger you can't apply [the scholarship is open to undergraduate students at NRF University Member schools who will be juniors or seniors at the time the scholarship is presented], so I just kind of waited it out. And then what motivated me, I would say, would be watching Kelsey White of LIM College [top Next Gen recipient in 2019].
It felt like something that was within reach. When you see someone close to you be able to do those things, you start thinking, “oh, I could do that, too.” Then on top of that, a professor who I'm very close with, she really motivated me to go ahead and actually apply. It's obviously having the right surroundings and people there, but just watching someone else go through it, I knew it was possible.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: What was the most rewarding aspect of the application process, if you could pick one?
Madeline Medby: I'd say being able to really dive into the industry and really work through some of those problem-solving skills. It's something that you're going to have to do later on, so it was rewarding to be a part of that and meet and network with people. It was honestly just a great experience overall.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: What was the most challenging aspect of the application process and how did you overcome it?
Madeline Medby: Well, if we're talking about the first case study and that application process, mostly for me it was trying to think out of the box and come up with something new and original. I've been doing case studies for so long. I felt like I was seeing the same things in the industry. It took me a long time to really narrow down what I wanted to actually submit as my first case study because I was kind of teetering back and forth with different ideas and really wanted to come up with something solid. I would say that was the most difficult.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: What did the time commitment look like for you for that first round application and how did you structure your time to gather all the elements that you needed? The essay, the video, the letters, etc.
Madeline Medby: It definitely is a time commitment. You have to make sure that you're dedicating time and scheduling out time. At the time I was interning as well as going to school full-time, so you have to put in the effort, and make the connections with people so that you have those resources to go back to them and ask for references.
The video I actually redid twice because I hated the way it came out the first time. I wanted to be able to showcase everything that I had done and what I was interested in, and not only show the professional side but the more personal side, because I think that says a lot about people as well.
It takes a lot of time. Give yourself checkpoints throughout the application. Ask your friends for feedback, or professors. All of this takes time. Give yourself more leeway than you think.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: That's very good advice. In addition to that tip about time management, are there any other pieces of advice or guidance that you would give to students who are considering applying? Maybe they're on the fence. What would you say to them?
Madeline Medby: I would say just go for it. Everything is experience. I have taken pretty much every opportunity that has come my way for any of these case studies or any scholarships, just because I think it's great learning experience. You're going to have to look at the industry, you're going to have to really get your hands dirty in it and it's worth it in the end. The people that you meet and the research that you do -- it's so much fun.
I remember even when I was starting this scholarship I was talking to my retail manager, who ended up knowing someone who worked for Hill City, which was our case study. And she was like, “let me give you the contact. Maybe if it's not a conflict of interest, you can interview him and see what he thinks about the company.” And so, after making sure nothing was a conflict of interest, I went ahead and interviewed him. It's all about using what you have and those connections.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: What was the number one highlight or your favorite moment from the entire experience?
Madeline Medby: My favorite moment obviously would be standing on that stage and realizing that something that I had worked so hard for had come true.
Another favorite moment of mine was when I was doing the case study and I had taken the whole time to gather my research and everything, but I came down to the wire and I was so last minute. I couldn't believe how last minute I had been on it and I was beating myself up for it, but once you hit that submit button, it's such an amazing feeling and you feel so accomplished that you were able to do that with what little resources you have or what little knowledge I had had from college.
You think you know everything, and you don't. You come into this situation and have to dive into like, “OK, what do I need to figure out? What do I need to do?” I think that at the end, meeting the people that you meet – my peers, the mentors, the people in the industry – you learn so much throughout the experience. I think it's an amazing opportunity.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: How did this scholarship specifically impact your career goals and lead you to where you are now?
Madeline Medby: I have learned so much about the industry that I had no idea really even existed, or certain brands that worked with retail that I had no idea I could go into. It broadened my horizon. Even though I'm leaving college and I already have a job, I foresee a future where I do want to experiment and see what else is in the industry.
You kind of get in this tunnel vision, and Next Gen has completely shifted where I think I see myself in the future. I already have new goals to set for myself. You see a whole new realm of retail than you had in the beginning.
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: Any questions?
Sheryl Marcus (instructor at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising): Annalea, one question that I'll ask because it's been asked of me. Obviously, we have a merchandising and marketing major, which is right up this case study’s alley. Would other majors be eligible for the Next Generation Scholarship? For example, obviously we have graphic design, we have interior design, etc. If they can meet all these requirements, would they then be eligible or are we really sticking predominantly to a merchandising kind of majors?
Annalea Soudry-Maurer: Yes, all majors are eligible to apply. We don't have any restrictions about it. Obviously, some students may find it a little bit more approachable than others, but we would encourage those students that are in different types of majors to consider applying. I think that the prompts are broad enough that students can take a deep dive into the learning process and it would be a great way to challenge themselves as well. I would encourage all the students to apply, regardless of their major.
Right now, we are in the open application period for the first phase for any interested student who wants to apply. There is no limit to the number of students per university member school that can apply. The deadline to apply for the Next Generation Scholarship is May 15 at 11:59 p.m. EST.
The GPA requirements for the scholarship is a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. If your university does the scale a little bit differently and you're not quite sure, just send me an email.
Still have questions? Reach out to Annalea Soudry-Maurer or plan to join our second NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship information call on Thursday, March 5 at 3 p.m. EST. The number to dial-in is 1-855-633-2040 and the passcode is 2926954#.