PORTLAND — Twenty-five students from across Maine, including Kaitlyn Tompkins, a recent graduate of Mount Desert Island High School, will start at the University of Southern Maine to embark on a college journey that for many seemed out of reach. Tompkins will attend the college to pursuit an education degree.
This year’s Promise Scholars cohort is USM’s largest to date. These college freshmen will benefit from a program designed to create a path forward for financially challenged students who are highly motivated to succeed. In addition to scholarship money, the USM Promise Program provides enrichment opportunities and a network of support from peer and professional staff to help first-generation college students overcome barriers and make it to graduation.
Now in its fourth year, the program has provided 83 scholarships to economically disadvantaged and first-generation college students referred from partner youth-serving organizations across Maine. Over $235,000 in scholarship funds, including $90,000 in commitments for this year’s recipients, have been awarded to scholars for the 2021-2022 academic year. These personalized scholarships are multi-year, top-off awards that bridge the gap between a student’s individualized aid package and cost of full tuition and fees.
But challenges for students go beyond financial costs. “College is a brand-new experience for first-generation students and their families,” says Daniel Barton, the program’s coordinator. “Simply offering students a scholarship and a few words of encouragement is not enough. While affordability provides access, it must be coupled with an experience rich in community, the opportunity to engage, and strategic guidance navigating campus resources.”
Scholarship funding paired with support offers the program’s scholar group the opportunity to thrive at the university. Scholars transition to USM through an immersion week experience, prior to other students arriving on campus, centered on volunteerism, building community and acclimating to campus through a series of activities and workshops. Scholars are also matched with a peer mentor for the duration of their first year to help them navigate college life and foster a sense of belonging.
The incoming cohort represents an effort to offer scholarships to students from every corner of the state. Scholars hail from 18 different high schools and represent more than 10 youth-serving organizations, including the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine, Camp Susan Curtis, JMG, the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, The Telling Room and TRIO Upward Bound.
“Expanding the program’s geographic diversity is important,” Barton said, “and our youth organization partners are essential in that effort.” Recipients of the Promise Scholarship have demonstrated academic excellence and a passion for giving back to their community.
To learn more about USM’s Promise Scholarship Program, visit https://usm.maine.edu/the-promise-scholarship.