Jalen Rhodes was sitting in the back of algebra class on March 4 at Belleville East High School when the door suddenly swung open.
In streamed a line of adults, some carrying pom-poms and balloons and one holding an oversized check he soon learned had been made out to him.
The check was from the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
The amount: $100,000.
That is the estimated value of tuition, fees and books over the next four years which Rhodes is in line to receive as one of five students across the St. Louis region chosen to be part of the Opportunity Scholars Program’s newest cohort.
Edward Munn Sanchez, dean of the Pierre Laclede Honors College; Senior Recruitment Coordinator Darrick Curtis; and Recruitment Specialist Rakeem Golden were among the UMSL contingent to deliver Rhodes the good news.
“The idea behind the scholarship is to retain some of the best and brightest students here in the St. Louis area,” Curtis said.
A committee made up of staff from the honors college, admissions and financial aid selected the recipients from a pool of more than 100 applicants with a preference shown to first-generation students or students who are underrepresented in their intended field.
To be eligible, students must have applied for admission to UMSL by Dec. 15, been in the top 10 percent of their high school class and have had a minimum ACT score of 26. They were required to also apply for the Opportunity Scholars Program by Jan. 1.
Typically, the committee considers the applications, looking in particular for signs of leadership at the student’s high school, and pares the list of applicants to about 25. Those 25 are brought to campus for interviews with either Provost Kristin Sobolik or one of the deans or faculty members, who make recommendations.
Until three years ago, the winners of the scholarship found out when a letter arrived in their mailboxes. Curtis pushed to change that with the blessing of former Director of Admissions Drew Griffin.
“I was thinking, ‘Really, they jump through all these hoops and we make them come to campus and interview, and it’s this whole thing, and all we do is send them a letter,’” Curtis said. “I told him I wanted to do a big Publisher’s Clearing House-type thing, and he kind of gave me free rein to play it out.”
Christopher Bowen, a manager in the Office of Student Financial Aid, was the one who delivered the formal scholarship offer to Rhodes and the other students this year. That letter, rather than the oversized check, carries the weight of the offer, and the students have until early April to accept.
When they do, they’ll officially join the cohort of students, who live together in Oak Hall and receive unique opportunities for advising, mentoring and career experiences.
The Opportunity Scholars Program began in 2011. Since then five students from the Hazelwood School District – including two last year at Hazelwood Central – have received the scholarship, the most of any district. Soldan International Studies High School has had the most Opportunity Scholars of any high school with four.
Primary Opportunity Scholars Program Supporters
The Bellwether Foundation
Emerson Charitable Trust
Enterprise Holdings Foundation
Stanley and Terry Freerks
Kwame Building Group
Martin Leifeld and Ellen Howe
John F. McDonnell
Richard Miles and Patricia Whitaker
RGA Reinsurance Company
David and Thelma Steward