George J. Mitchell Scholarship

The US-Ireland Alliance, sponsors of the Mitchell Scholarship, was formed by Trina Vargo in 1998. The US-Ireland Alliance is a proactive, non-partisan, non-profit organization dedicated to consolidating existing relations between the United States and the island of Ireland and building that relationship for the future. The Mitchell Scholarship Program, named to honor former US Senator George Mitchell’s pivotal contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, is designed to introduce and connect generations of future American leaders to the island of Ireland, while recognizing and fostering intellectual achievement, leadership, and a commitment to community and public service.

Context

The Mitchell has become recognized as a highly competitive scholarship, vying with the more established Rhodes and Marshall Scholarships. As result, they receive a lot of traction via their own website, online activities and word-of-mouth. They also communicate directly with the universities whose advisers are responsible for putting candidates forward as well as liaising with NAFA, the National Association of Fellowship Advisers. The US-Ireland Alliance are currently midway through the selection process for the class of 2015 of this prestigious scholarship, having used Sonru’s Video Selection tool for the first

time to assist the selection of the 14th cohort.

“We love it [Sonru], we definitely love it and are using it again for the 15th cohort. Prior to using Sonru, the organization was solely reliant on what is on the page. An opportunity to see every candidate answer questions by video provided an added, humanizing element at an earlier stage. Everyone involved in the selection process found this to noticeably enhance the process.” – Trina Vargo, Founder & President, US-Ireland Alliance

 

Key Findings

  • Brought Best Candidates Forward 
  • Accommodated Large, Varied & Geographically Dispersed Assessment Team
  • Accessible to All Candidates

Some of the Highlights

“Everybody has been really positive and agree it adds to mix. It’s really difficult to just see people on paper – part of the Mitchell Scholarship is being an Ambassador for the US which requires being able to think on your feet. With Sonru, you’re seeing their personality, seeing them answer impromptu questions and having to think on their feet which is going to happen when they’re away for the year whereas applicants may get help with the paper applications.” – Trina Vargo, Founder & President, US-Ireland Alliance

Up to twelve Mitchell Scholars between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen annually for one year of postgraduate study in any discipline offered by institutions of higher learning in Ireland and Northern Ireland. The selection process involves multiple stages and multiple reviewers / interviewers as well as a final committee comprising of between 8 and 12 people. The online application form requested several items including CVs / Résumés, essays and recommendations. Applicants who fulfilled all the application criteria in terms of attachments were automatically invited to the Sonru video interview.

Trina Vargo, Founder & President of the US-Ireland Alliance contends that “although all applicants fulfilling the application requirements were invited to complete a Sonru video interview, we conducted preliminary screening and did not view the videos of candidates that were not as competitive on paper.”

The Mitchell Scholarship’s internal team spent five days reading the 300 applications and watching the videos to select a shortlist of 80; their applications and videos were then reviewed by six readers who were given two weeks to rank and shortlist to the 40 applicants invited to the live video interview. With six readers, a final committee of between 8 and 12 members with additional expert advice sought, Sonru’s video selection software proved a very useful tool in managing this large and varied assessment team.

“We have a very diverse assessment team, sending particular applications to people who are expert in a specific field e.g. playwriting. This makes sure we’re choosing the very best people. Being able to send the Sonru video link along with the paper application has added enormously to the selection process.” – Trina Vargo, Founder & President, US-Ireland Alliance

 

Although the Sonru video interview was an additional element to the Mitchell Scholarship selection process (having previously shortlisted the 40 candidates for the semi-finals by live video interview directly from the paper applications), Vargo is now convinced that this additional time has helped them to “get to the better pool of candidates.”

Vargo maintains Sonru was most useful when deciding which 40 to invite to the semi- final interviews, adding: “Before, you’d be wondering how did we select probably 20 of the 40 to this stage? Now with Sonru, we knew the 40 we invited were the absolute best. People on paper can look great until the semi final interview, so this makes us think now who in the past weren’t we interviewing that might also have been better?”

The Mitchell Scholarship received applications from disabled candidates – two deaf applicants and one visually impaired applicant.

“It was our one concern, in introducing Sonru into the process, that nobody would be discriminated against. The real issue was to ensure Sonru fitted with our own disability policy and complied with ADA (the American Disabilities Act) and between the user design of the interface and thanks to the advice of the Sonru Support team it has worked out so we’re now confident that our process is accessible to all applicants.” – Trina Vargo, Founder & President, US-Ireland Alliance

Conclusion

“Before we started there was fear, is Sonru going to be more trouble than it is worth? I can now confirm that Sonru is easy to use – it’s fool proof. We are a really small operation and any tools we use have to be that simple as we need the time.”

Trina Vargo, Founder & President, US-Ireland Alliance