Mya Miranda finds it difficult to put into words how much her scholarship to attend the University of Missouri–St. Louis has meant on a personal level. A 2017 graduate of Hazelwood West High School, she finished her senior year with flying colors. But until just recently, a four-year university seemed out of reach.
“For a while, I didn’t think that I would be able to afford anything beyond community college,” explains Miranda, now a biology major at UMSL. “This scholarship made it possible, and I love college so far. It feels as though everything I am learning is extremely interesting and is, most importantly, applicable to my life.”
She and four other new students, all hailing from north St. Louis County, comprise the second-ever cohort of UMSL Bridge Program Express Scripts Scholars. Along with Miranda, Kevin Hall, Matthew Ayinmodu, Nick Rosario and Kendra Clark are setting out on their undergraduate careers on solid footing – and with solid funding in place – thanks to a major investment first announced by Express Scripts in the fall of 2015.
Each scholar receives up to $15,000 a year toward tuition and student-housing costs, plus peer mentors at UMSL and networking, internship and mentoring opportunities at the neighboring Express Scripts headquarters.
“I feel that this scholarship is the best thing that has happened to me in life so far,” says Hall, an information systems major who remembers wanting to attend UMSL since he was a freshman in high school. “It has paved the bumpy road of college, and it opens me up for more opportunities when I would otherwise have been spending a lot of time working to pay off my tuition.”
All graduates of the university’s flagship precollegiate Bridge Program – which for 31 years has been preparing local teens for college – the five recipients follow on the heels of last year’s first cohort and, by 2021, will be joined by three more groups of deserving, determined students.
The funding speaks to Express Scripts’ commitment to the future of St. Louis and its workforce, says Express Scripts President and CEO Tim Wentworth.
“We’re not just a part of the UMSL campus – we are a part of the UMSL community,” Wentworth explains. “Stepping up and supporting the UMSL Bridge Program is one more way that Express Scripts is investing in the future success of the school, its students and our region.”
Wentworth adds that the mentorship component just makes sense.
“Our employees have valuable life and professional experiences to share with students,” he says. “We want to walk with them every step of the way. We are proud to offer strong mentors who can provide guidance and counsel on everything from balancing work and school, to finding that next job, to developing life skills and everything in between.”
Clark, who is studying psychology, emphasizes the sense of relief and focus the support has offered her financially. But it’s also about more than money for her and her peers.
They rave about the guidance and knowledge they’ve benefited from as Bridge Program participants as well as the now-familiar faces and resources that remain accessible as they navigate college life.
“Something that I’ve noticed is how the staff at UMSL is extremely dedicated to making sure that students are learning all that they can,” Clark says. “While in Bridge, that included ACT prep, as well as activities that helped me narrow down my interests. And now, in my college classes, my professors have been helpful in making sure that I understand the content. I get the impression that they will give their all to make sure that all of their students succeed.”
All of that has been extremely motivating for her classmate Ayinmodu, a biochemistry and biotechnology major looking toward a career in pharmaceuticals. He calls the scholarship a blessing and adds that he’s delighted by the “inviting and diverse” atmosphere he’s found at UMSL.
For Natissia Small, director of Bridge and assistant dean of students, the scholarship recipients’ excitement and success is gratifying to witness. Bridge serves nearly 4,000 local teens annually, yet the individual needs of each participant remain paramount as the program seeks to ensure successful matriculation to college.
“It’s an indescribable feeling to witness year after year hundreds of students grow academically, personally and professionally,” Small says, “becoming well prepared for college while achieving financial support to ensure that the common obstacle of affordability is eliminated. It is equally remarkable to witness them begin this incredible journey to adulthood while remaining a resource for them as they persist to college degree completion.
“College affordability is a growing concern for many families in the region and beyond, and it is critical for us to create scholarship opportunities for deserving students to overcome financial barriers that impede access. The impact of this initiative in partnership with Express Scripts is tremendous.”
As a first-generation college student, Rosario is evidence of that impact. Now studying information systems and cybersecurity at UMSL, he says higher education would have eluded him without the guidance and financial aid he’s received.
“I was raised here in St. Louis by my grandparents, and there was no money for me to go to college,” Rosario explains. “I have always been a goal-orientated student and still am today, but without funds college just was not obtainable. And if it were not for the Bridge Program, I would be having trouble navigating college and keeping up with homework.”
The way Rosario sees it, he’s now taking an enormous, critical step toward his future – and able to do so with confidence.
“Being awarded this scholarship has made that step easier,” he says. “And I’ll use it not only to take my first step but to run a mile.”