Author: Daphne Auza
Kim Babon officially succeeded Sue Pramov April 2 as Occidental’s new Director of National Awards.
The position entails mentoring students and alumni on their career and academic goals by helping them pursue scholarships and fellowships. As director, Babon is responsible for coordinating the recruitment and application processes, which include essay composition, writing letters of recommendation and interview preparation.
Babon is no stranger to working with liberal arts college students. She earned her undergraduate degree from Clark University and has taught sociology at numerous liberal arts institutions, including Harvey Mudd College.
“I’ve always felt a strong affinity for a liberal arts environment,” Babon said. “I spent most of my career in higher education working in those types of environments. So Oxy drew me not just for having a liberal arts environment where I get to interact with students and alumni directly and closely, [but] because that’s something I really enjoy and find meaningful for me.”
Babon comes to Occidental from Claremont McKenna College, where she served as the assistant director of fellowships and national awards for a year and a half. She succeeds Pramov, who started working at Occidental in the Office of National Awards in January 2002 as an administrative assistant, according to human resources assistant Kathleen Garcia. Pramov served as assistant director for two years and became director in November 2013 before retiring in January 2015.
Advising has appealed to Babon ever since she worked as a preceptor at the University of Chicago, where she advised 20 graduate students a year on their theses, course selection and applications for graduate and fellowship programs. She said she continues to use her teaching background in her approach to awards advising.
“I love advising, but at heart I really love teaching so my perspective on this is one of an educator,” Babon said. “I can distill a lot of information down to essential elements, which I think is sometimes hard to do when you’re faced with all this info that a fellowship is throwing at you.”
Biology Professor Gretchen North, who chaired the search committee for the new director of national awards, said that Babon’s background as an academic will be beneficial since the position entails facilitating relationships between fellowship applicants and their faculty advisors.
“She is a good listener,” North said via email. “She has creative ideas about how to inspire and inform student candidates, including alumni award-winner events. She clearly respects scholarship and intellectual life.”
While at Occidental, Babon hopes to organize workshops on crafting personal statements and research proposals that she developed during her time at Claremont. She also aims to work toward creating a community of fellowship recipients who can connect with one another and share their experiences with current students.
“There’s a lot of emphasis on getting [the fellowship], on winning it,” Babon said. “But the thing is, once someone does actually receive one, that’s an amazing and valuable experience that they can share with others. I actually want to work in ways that will connect recipients with the Oxy community to share what they’ve learned.”
The April 20 National Awards Reception is one of her first steps toward achieving that goal. Babon organized the event to celebrate fellowship and national award recipients and nominees who have undergone the application process in the last year, along with the staff and faculty who mentored them throughout the process.
Occidental has historically garnered a high number of national award winners for a small liberal arts institution, according to Amy Lyford, the associate dean for curriculum and academic support. Just last year, 13 students won the highly competitive, merit-based Fulbright Award and four students were named Coro Fellows. Lyford appreciates Babon’s plans to expand the Office of National Awards’ outreach so that opportunities are more readily accessible.
“She was really interested in working with a more diverse student body and engaging with students in a one-on-one mentoring kind of way, and developing new ways of reaching out to students to make them feel that they have access to all these opportunities,” Lyford said. “Because they’re very competitive, but we also have so many students who could potentially be candidates that don’t even know it exists.”
Babon also plans to expand the office’s current website so that it can serve as a resource for faculty, students and alumni interested in fellowships and national awards. To further grow this online presence, she is working on establishing the Office of National Awards’ social media presence on Facebook and possibly Instagram.
Students can find Babon’s current office in the South B Trailer, but it will eventually be housed alongside Pre-Health and Pre-Law Advising and the Career Development Center in the new Center for Graduate Success, which is currently undergoing renovation.
Aside from the new space, Babon looks forward to witnessing the personal and professional growth that she has seen in students throughout the scholarships application process.
“They’re different from writing a paper for a class, and it’s also different from applying for a job,” Babon said. “It’s also different from applying for undergraduate schooling. It’s its own unique animal in the academic world.”
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