The Opportunity Scholars Program: Providing opportunities for St. Louis’ first-generation college students

UMSL freshmen Brian Pickens (left) and Nicholas "Daniel" Bolden

UMSL freshmen Brian Pickens (left) and Nicholas "Daniel" Bolden walk to class on the university’s North Campus. The two are friends and participants in The Opportunity Scholars Program, which enrolled its first cohort in the fall. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis created The Opportunity Scholars Program last year to recruit first-generation college students and increase diversity among future leaders in science, engineering, math and related fields.

The university selects up to 10 students each year to participate in the program, which includes a full four-year scholarship and residential package. Scholarship recipients receive individualized academic, career and life-skills coaching. Summer jobs and internships with the university’s corporate partners enable students to gain professional experience and build relationships.

Brian Pickens, an 18-year-old graduate of Hazelwood (Mo.) East High School, is one of seven students in the first cohort of scholarship recipients. They began attending classes in the fall.

During his high school career, Pickens earned an ACT score of 31, a cumulative grade point average of 4.3 on a 4.0 scale and was ranked first in his graduating high school class. He’s also the first in his family to attend college.

“My parents weren’t able to go to college, but they’re determined that I earn a degree,” Pickens says. “I pretty much needed all costs covered in order to continue my education. If it weren’t for The Opportunity Scholars Program, my options would have been a lot more limited. I was ecstatic when I received the call that I’d been accepted into the program.”

UMSL Chancellor Tom George says the idea for the program started with conversations between the university and St. Louis-area corporate leaders. The discussions centered on the long-term effect on St. Louis’ economy if companies cannot recruit and retain a high quality, diverse work force.

“The Opportunity Scholars Program is a step in the right direction toward keeping more of our local talent right here in St. Louis,” George says. “The program has so many wonderful aspects beyond the financial advantages to students. Corporate experiences and new relationships also benefit our scholars.”

It was the possibilities presented by getting a summer job or internship at a St. Louis-area company that most interested Nicholas “Daniel” Bolden in The Opportunity Scholars Program. Bolden, a 19-year-old engineering major at UMSL and graduate of Hazelwood East, also is in the program’s first cohort.

“The Opportunity Scholars Program had the extra feature of guaranteed work at places like Emerson,” Bolden says. “That’s what I liked about it.”

Initial supporters of the program include Emerson, AT&T, Energizer and David and Thelma Steward of World Wide Technology. UMSL is seeking a total of $10 million in private funding to support the program.

“We have high hopes for the program and would like to see more scholarships offered to a broader range of students,” George says. “Our goal is to extend the program to allow as many worthy students as possible to benefit from this life-changing scholarship.”

Help us keep the best and brightest in the St. Louis area
Supporting The Opportunity Scholars Program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis is a great way to help deserving students from St. Louis.

In addition to a full four-year scholarship and residential package, students in The Opportunity Scholars Program receive summer jobs and internships at corporate partner sites, along with academic, career and life skills coaching.

To get involved, please call Kent Krober at 314-516-4115 or send him a message at kroberk@umsl.edu.


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