Private scholarships make a difference for hard-working UMSL students

Briona Perry, a sophomore biochemistry major at UMSL

Briona Perry, a sophomore biochemistry major at UMSL, aspires to become a pharmacist. The ambitious Opportunity Scholars Program participant works multiple part-time jobs, including one as a pharmacy technician at a Walgreens near campus. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The University of Missouri–St. Louis raised about $20 million in private scholarship funds over the course of its seven-year Gateway for Greatness Campaign. What does that mean for UMSL students?

“Access and excellence,” UMSL Chancellor Tom George answers. “Because of (scholarship donors), more students have access to a quality education that leads to excellence in their careers and lives.”

Those scholarships also mean something for the donors whose gifts created them. Their contributions are an investment in young, talented students who will someday strengthen the St. Louis-area work force.

Here’s a look at three UMSL students who received scholarships created during the campaign.

Briona Perry: Opportunity Scholars Program

Briona Perry graduated from Francis Howell North High School in St. Peters, Mo., with a 4.2 GPA, numerous honors and a lengthy list of extracurricular activities. She was destined to receive a major scholarship that would likely determine her college choice, and that could have meant her moving far away, possibly never to return to the St. Louis work force.

That didn’t happen. Instead, she chose UMSL thanks to a program that was created to retain students just like her: the region’s best and brightest.

“I would not have been able to afford college without the Opportunity Scholars Program,” Perry says. “I plan to pursue a pharmacy degree, which requires eight years of school. This scholarship took the weight off of four years and will allow me to go into graduate school relatively debt free.”

The Opportunity Scholars Program began in 2011 through a partnership with UMSL and Emerson, which contributed $1.65 million in funding and internships. AT&T, Energizer and David and Thelma Steward of World Wide Technology provided additional support.

The program enhances the quality and diversity of the region’s future leaders in science, technology, engineering, math and related fields.

Participants are top St. Louis-area high school students who are under-represented or the first in their family to enroll in college. They receive an all-inclusive four-year scholarship and residential package, as well as one-on-one academic, career and life-skills coaching. They also gain access to internships through UMSL’s corporate partners.

“It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Perry says.

She was among the Opportunity Scholars Program’s first cohort, which began in fall 2011. She learned about the program through her participation in the UMSL Bridge Program for precollegiate students.

Now a sophomore in the Pierre Laclede Honors College and a biochemistry major, Perry’s grown fond of UMSL. She’s quickly made new friends, including a trio with whom she now shares a suite in Oak Hall.

“The faculty is great, the staff is great, the students are great, and I just feel welcomed,” says Perry, 19, who is involved in several campus organizations and works as a part-time Walgreens pharmacy technician.

A self-described “family person,” Perry says she looks forward to someday starting a career in the same area as her St. Charles, Mo.-based family.

“The community can look forward to me someday being their pharmacist,” she says.

John-Mark Scott: Enterprise Opportunity Driver Scholarship

John-Mark Scott’s grandfather, Lance Hellwig, is a proud UMSL alumnus, who graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

“He actually had classes in the church across the street from Benton Hall,” Scott says. “He remembers [Benton] being built. He always wanted me to go here.”

Scott told Hellwig he would consider UMSL. But the 18-year-old from Florissant, Mo., says he wanted to leave his options open. He looked at several St. Louis-area universities, but he says his grandfather’s alma mater stood out.

“This just felt right,” Scott says.

So his mind was already made up when he applied for, and ultimately received, the Enterprise Opportunity Drivers Scholarship. It pays $5,000 annually for his tuition, room and board and includes internship opportunities.

“It was overwhelming,” Scott says of earning the scholarship.

He’s among the first group of students to benefit from the newly established scholarship. It was created through a $1.5 million gift from the Enterprise Holdings Foundation to the College of Business Administration at UMSL. The Enterprise Opportunity Driver Scholarship also includes stipends for UMSL juniors and seniors who mentor the scholarship recipients.

Scott had only completed his first three weeks at UMSL when he met to discuss his scholarship, but he says his experience here has already exceeded his expectations. He’s particularly fond of his three courses in the Pierre Laclede Honors College.

“There’s a lot of interesting information jam-packed into them,” Scott says. “They always said your professors would know your name and they do. It’s a friendly relationship.”

He says he also enjoys no longer sharing a room with two of his brothers. He now lives at Oak Hall, where he has his own room in a suite with three roommates he quickly befriended.

As for his major choice, he drew on inspiration from an accounting class he took at Hazelwood Central High School in St. Louis County. Something in that class struck a chord with Scott. Now he has aspirations of someday being a chief financial officer for a St. Louis-based company.

“I like to dream big,” Scott says.

Erin Tinker: Eugene J. Meehan Scholarship

Erin Tinker took an unconventional path to an undergraduate scholarship. The 29-year-old, a senior majoring in psychology at UMSL, earned a Eugene J. Meehan Scholarship about a decade after starting college.

After graduating from Bourbon (Mo.) High School, Tinker enrolled at St. Louis Community College at Meramec and pursued a theater degree. Before finishing, a fitness club offered her an operations manager job with an office.

“I took the office,” Tinker says.

She worked in business management for seven years before being laid off in 2008. That thrust her into a turbulent job market, pitting the degreeless Tinker against MBA recipients. It was time for a change.

“I made an assessment of my skills and desires and came to the conclusion that I should be doing something in the community working with children,” Tinker says.

She worked a series of part-time jobs and eventually landed a director’s position with the YMCA. She also returned to school, completing an associate’s degree at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley.

Tinker was drawn to UMSL for the strong reputation of the psychology program and degree value.

“I feel I get way more for my education at UMSL than some individuals I know who go to private school or more expensive schools,” Tinker says. “I don’t think I’m getting anything less by not paying more.”

As a member of Psi Chi, the international honors society for psychology students, she heard about the Meehan Scholarship.

The scholarship is named for Eugene Meehan, who taught political science for 20-plus years at UMSL. He died in 2002, and Alice, his wife, died in 2010. Their estate funds one of the university’s largest privately funded scholarships, which annually awards $5,000 to juniors and seniors in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Scholarships are important to students because it gives them recognition for their hard work,” Tinker says. “It’s also been important for me because it’s allowed me to expand my opportunities at the university and not worry how I’m going to pay for my education.”

The Meehan Scholarship means Tinker will graduate with little to no debt from UMSL. It also meant she didn’t have to work, which allowed her to volunteer at Children’s Advocacy Services of Greater St. Louis at UMSL. That led to a paying part-time job at CASGSL, which includes research and networking opportunities.

Tinker also volunteers weekly by reading to preschoolers through Ready Readers, a program she discovered in a UMSL English class that emphasizes service-learning. She’s since developed a curriculum for including Ready Readers volunteering in more classes, which she intends to pitch to psychology faculty members.

After graduating in May, she plans to seek work at an agency and later pursue a graduate degree at UMSL.


This story was originally published in the fall 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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