NEH provides a document with eligibility criteria that you should consult directly; we were told not summarize it here.
A selection committee reads and evaluates all properly completed applications in order to select the most promising applicants and to identify a number of alternates. Institute selection committees typically consist of three to five members, usually drawn from the institute faculty and staff members and sometimes a teacher. While recent participants are eligible to apply, project selection committees are directed to give first consideration to applicants who have not participated in an NEH-supported seminar, institute, or Landmarks workshop in the last three years (i.e. not in 2012, 2013, or 2014).
The most important consideration in the selection of participants is the likelihood that an applicant will benefit professionally and personally. This is determined by committee members from the conjunction of several factors, each of which should be addressed in the application essay. These factors (provided by NEH) include:
- effectiveness and commitment as a teacher/educator;
- intellectual interests, both generally and as they relate to the work of the project;
- special perspectives, skills, or experiences that would contribute to the seminar or institute;
- commitment to participate fully in the formal and informal collegial life of the project; and
- the likelihood that the experience will enhance the applicant’s teaching.
When choices must be made among equally qualified candidates, several additional factors are considered. Preference is given to applicants who would significantly contribute to the diversity of the seminar or institute.
For the 2014 institute, we received 310 applications, and we could only choose 30, which meant many highly qualified applicants had to be turned away. It was an agonizing process in some ways, although we were also thrilled and stimulated by the impressive number of strong applications we were reading. In 2012 and 2013 we did not offer institutes in Oaxaca because we organized symposia in Europe instead, and with funding from other institutions. In 2011, we had 190+ applicants for our NEH Summer Institute in Oaxaca. People who had to be turned away in previous years may apply again, if they wish.
Many who were not selected have written to ask for any general tips for writing stronger applications. Here are some recommendations: We look for people who will particularly connect with our content, whether because of their own diverse backgrounds, because of their students’ diverse backgrounds, or because their students truly lack access to diversity and would greatly benefit from a more diverse curriculum. We look for strong, explicit connections with the content we have assembled, especially as outlined in the syllabus, and clear, relevant, and appealing ideas about potential curricular materials that might grow out of this institute. We like to see signs that the applicant is a team player, collegial and collaborative, flexible/adaptable about international situations that might arise unexpectedly and that might be different from home.
We hope to have people who will step up, when it seems needed, and step back to let others lead, as might be appropriate. We love having enthusiastic and cooperative individuals with positive attitudes who listen and heed recommendations about logistical details, who come to gatherings on time and do not leave early, who are respectful with a wide range of speaking styles, who meet at the designated spot on time, and who do not hold up the whole bus on excursions while running off for a frivolous purchase.
Several people applied as couples, as parent-offspring pairs, or as siblings. Some asked whether that might have hurt their eligibility. The answer is no. But the review committee has a point system, where we give 1 to 5 points for each of the five criteria listed above (from NEH). We total and average the points for each file, individually, on its own merits. Naturally, therefore, joint applicants come out with somewhat varying scores. We cannot raise the scores of the joint applicants to match the higher score of one of the members of a pair or group. In one case, we admitted one member of a group but had to wait-list the other two.