UMSL's 2014 Opportunity Scholars

Members of the 2014 Opportunity Scholars Program at UMSL are (from left) Lauren Jenkins, freshman, biochemistry; Nicole Gevers, freshman, pre-engineering; Leslie Jackson, freshman, accounting; Anta Kane, freshman, nursing; and Brendan McCoy, freshman, pre-engineering. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Paying bills usually draws a groan from most people, but Leslie Jackson has always savored it. She has fond memories of helping her mom during bill time when she was growing up.

“I’ve always loved helping people with managing money and creating budgets,” said Jackson, a freshman accounting major at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. She’s enrolled at UMSL as part of the Opportunity Scholars Program.

This year’s incoming OSP students also include Anta Kane, a nursing major; Lauren Jenkins, a biochemistry major; and Brendan McCoy and Nicole Gevers, both pre-engineering majors. All of the students are enrolled in the Pierre Laclede Honors College or have taken honors courses at UMSL.

Created in 2011, the program recruits top St. Louis-area high school students who are underrepresented or are the first in their family to enroll in college. The program enhances the quality and diversity of the region’s future leaders in science, technology, engineering, math and related fields. Participants 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.

Jackson said the program is “extremely critical” to her earning her degree, citing the peer and financial support. She called the program a “blessing.”

“It’s the best thing that has happened in my life so far,” Jackson said. “It gives me an opportunity to gain knowledge and start a career, which without the scholarship probably wouldn’t be possible. It lifted a great financial burden off my parents. To see them not struggle by sending me to college is a great feeling.”

Whenever Anta Kane happened to be at a hospital she always noticed that nurses “were at the center of it all.” With her interest piqued, she knew she wanted to pursue the same career.

The freshman nursing student said it’s an honor to be an Opportunity Scholar and is excited to be on the path to achieving her dreams.

“Without this program I doubt that I would have attended such a good university,” she said. “Without the worry of paying for school, I can focus on getting my degree.”

Lauren Jenkins considers herself a “science fanatic” and credits a high school biology class with getting her hooked on science.

“We had a teacher who believed an honors class should be taught like a college class so he proceeded to go into further detail than any teacher, ever had before, and I absolutely loved it,” Jenkins said.

While she doesn’t know exactly what she wants to be when she grows up, she’s leaning toward the research and development side of pharmacology.

She called the Opportunity Scholars Program “one of the biggest blessings in my life.” She’s grateful that the scholarship will create a debt-free future for her and her family.

“I cannot put in words how much stress this program has lifted off my shoulders and those of my family,” she said. “OSP is such a prestigious program with high expectations, and I am completely honored to have been accepted.”

Nicole Gevers liked the idea of being able to have the best of both worlds – attending UMSL and Washington University in St. Louis – making the Joint Undergraduate Engineering Program the perfect fit.

She really enjoys math and science, and gravitated toward wanting a career in civil engineering. She’d like to focus on large-scale projects such as buildings or bridges.

Gevers has been overwhelmed by the support she’s received so far from everyone involved in the program, including mentors and advisers.

“This program is huge for me attaining a college degree,” she said.

The Opportunity Scholars Program began in 2011 through a partnership with UMSL and Emerson, which contributed $1.65 million. Additional contributors to the scholarship program include AT&T, Energizer, Reinsurance Group of America, Stan and Terry Freerks, Bellwether Foundation and David and Thelma Steward. UMSL also received an anonymous $1 million gift – bringing the total raised to $7.2 million toward an overall goal of $10 million.

For scholarship criteria, guidelines and more information, visit

The UMSL Experience

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez