Meaningful connections: Scholarships benefit donors as well as students

Senior engineering major Nicholas O’Brien plans to graduate in December of 2017 – thanks in large part to scholarship support from Boeing. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Senior engineering major Nicholas O’Brien plans to graduate in December 2017 – thanks in large part to scholarship support from Boeing. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Washing dishes. Serving tables. Bartending. Restaurant management. Unemployment. The journey Nicholas O’Brien has taken to the University of Missouri­–St. Louis and its joint engineering program with Washington University in St. Louis has been neither swift nor straight. But the jagged path has him in the right place at the right time.

Like many young people, O’Brien told about 200 people at UMSL’s annual scholarship reception last week, he entered college right after high school lacking the commitment to succeed. Dropping out, he set out into the hospitality industry where he was pretty successful but ultimately not satisfied.

“I was working 10- to 14-hour days – every day,” O’Brien said. “I hadn’t taken a day off in months. And I really didn’t enjoy what I was doing.”

Consulting with his fiancee, O’Brien decided to return to college to pursue a degree in engineering. His first stop was St. Louis Community College. Good grades and a year and a half later, he transferred to UMSL.

Scholarships from Boeing and other sources, he said, have him on pace to graduate in December of 2017. He’s also been selected for a Boeing internship this summer.

“Without my scholarships, I would be planning on graduation somewhere around 2020,” O’Brien said. “From the bottom of my heart – thank you all for your generosity.”

O’Brien was one of four students who spoke or performed at the scholarship reception. Others were music major Ryan Benthall, information systems major Kalynn Clinton and nursing major Brandi Fields, who also served as master of ceremonies.

Junior nursing major Brandi Fields said scholarships have allowed her to excel academically and explore the rich diversity of people and organizations on and off the UMSL campus.

Junior nursing major Brandi Fields said scholarships have allowed her to excel academically and explore the rich diversity of people and organizations on and off the UMSL campus.

Born in Kansas City, Fields spent most of her childhood in Europe in a single-parent, military household that afforded opportunities to travel and “explore diversity in various ways – through cultures, race and communities.”

Fields, currently a junior who came to UMSL straight from high school, said that her numerous scholarships have allowed her to concentrate on academics as well as being involved in organizations on and off campus. Among those associations are the Associated Black Collegians, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Chancellor’s Cultural Diversity Council and the E. Desmond Lee Regional Institute of Tutorial Education as a scholarship essay tutor.

She is the recipient of the George and Melissa Paz Scholarship, Buel and Pearl Walters Nursing Scholarship, B. Phillip Tidwell Memorial Nursing Scholarship and Black Faculty and Staff Association Leadership Scholarship.

“I like to think of UMSL as the perfect place for me,” Fields said. “In so many ways, it was a calling to attend. UMSL represents a body of students who are not just local – but international. They come from countries within South America, Africa, Asia and Europe just to become a part of the international story of success here.”

Fields thanked the numerous donors present and introduced Terry Elmendorf as the event’s donor-focused speaker. Elmendorf, vice president and CFO at Boeing International, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UMSL, both in business administration, and is a member of the Chancellor’s Council.

The Boeing Company mission is to connect, protect, explore and inspire the world, Elmendorf said, noting that the four students who preceded him demonstrated all of those qualities with their remarks and performances.

“It’s exciting to watch this next generation of leaders in the making,” he said. “To the sponsors who have supported these individuals, your legacy will live on through their achievements.”

Boeing has invested a lot into the legacies of UMSL, contributing generously over the past three decades for new facilities, programs and scholarships. It sponsors numerous internships annually and is one of the leading employers of UMSL graduates – about 1,000 currently.

“For my part,” Elmendorf said, “I’m proud that Boeing has had a longstanding relationship with UMSL – dating back over 30 years. “It’s been an honor to spend time with these bright young men and women today and hear their stories of achievement. It’s also an honor to be part of a group of sponsors who believe and invest in them.”

Chancellor Tom George also spoke briefly, thanking donors for their support of UMSL students.

“Scholarships are necessary links for students seeking a different and better life through the education they receive here,” he said. “I am happy to say that our donors are responding. Last year, our donors gave over $3.1 million toward student financial aid. Let me assure you that your investment in our students is greatly appreciated by those students and by me.”

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