Opportunity Scholars Program recruits dynamic group of local students

Freshmen Opportunity Scholars

From left, Malik Taylor-Allen, Sarah Wilson, Ngoc Nguyen, Krystin Robinson, Brendan Hulahan and Esther Robinson are the newest members of the Opportunity Scholars Program. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Brendan Hulahan’s main reason for majoring in finance is an obvious one: He loves money.

While he aspires to manage wealth, he won’t have to worry about his own economic affairs for a while longer.

One of six freshmen in the Opportunity Scholars Program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Hulahan has an all-inclusive, four-year scholarship and residential package.

“It’s really amazing what this program has done for me,” the first-generation college student said. “I actually started a job my junior year of high school because I knew I was going to have to pay for college myself. Just to have everything that was given to me, it’s such an amazing thing. It’s really incredible.”

The program, which is run within the Pierre Laclede Honors College, recruits top St. Louis-area high school students who are underrepresented in their field of choice or are the first in their family to enroll in college. It also offers individualized advising, mentoring and career opportunities.

These incentives attract a motivated collection of students including the 2017 cohort of Hulahan, Ngoc Nguyen, Esther Robinson, Krystin Robinson, Malik Taylor-Allen and Sarah Wilson.

With just one semester complete, many of these scholars are still navigating the challenges of college life, but Wilson, one of the four engineering majors in the freshman cohort, notes that the relationships she’s built through the program have helped ease the integration process.

“It immediately pulls you into a community with the other students who received this scholarship,” she said. “It’s definitely a transition from high school to college, but after the first two weeks, it just felt natural here.”

Her favorite aspects of the program are networking with other OSP recipients and interacting with her peer mentor – advantages that fellow engineering major Esther Robinson appreciates as well.

“I can always go to my mentor with any questions that I have,” Robinson said. “It’s so nice to feel like I have someone who knows what they’re doing, so if I’m just completely lost I can ask for help. I love having that positive influence, and it’s really good to have that as a freshman.”

As a member of the UMSL women’s soccer team, Robinson also finds value in living on campus. Cutting out the 40-minute commute to her Arnold, Missouri, home allows Robinson to relax after practice and focus on her academic pursuits.

Krystin Robinson, a nursing major from De Soto, Missouri, also appreciates that she can eliminate what would be a 120-mile round trip from home to campus.

“I don’t know if I would have stayed on campus without this scholarship,” she said. “That took a huge weight off my shoulders. After these four years, I won’t have any debt, and that’s pretty rare. I think that will probably be the best thing about this scholarship.”

The program’s corporate sponsors also provide a professional network for students and help connect the scholars to internship and employment opportunities. Current donors include AT&T, the Bellwether Foundation, Emerson, Energizer Holdings, Stan and Terry Freerks, Martin Leifeld and Ellen Howe, Kwame Building Group, John F. McDonnell, Richard Miles and Patricia Whitaker, Reinsurance Group of America, and David and Thelma Steward.

“I’m really excited for an internship,” Hulahan said. “I tried to get one in high school actually, but nobody really wanted a high school student. I know I want to work with money and people, but having access to internships and the help that they provide, I really think that’s going to help me move toward my career.”

Just as the financial, social and professional benefits of the program aid students, Wilson has noticed a personal impact as well.

While she was a driven and capable student in high school, Wilson still had doubts that her academic record would stand out among the other Opportunity Scholars Program applicants. But after a single interview request, Wilson moved forward with an assured attitude.

“I think just getting this scholarship built up my self-confidence,” Wilson said. “It was a nice validation of all my hard work in high school really paying off. I think more students should apply for this scholarship. No one should really count themselves out.”

For scholarship criteria, guidelines and more information, visit umsl.edu/opportunityscholars.

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