Scholarship program charts course for first-generation college students
This year’s Charlottesville Scholarship Program recipients are getting more than just checks to help cover tuition.
A new program rolled out this spring, called College Navigators, provides each scholarship recipient with a mentor who will guide them through the college experience.
“This year, we have 32 students we are financially assisting, and each one will have a Navigator,” said Linda Seaman, the program’s development chair.
The program is the brainchild of the 2014 Leadership Charlottesville class, a program of the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce. About half of the Navigators came from the class while the rest are community members who stepped up to volunteer.
Scott Morgan, the group sales manager for Charlottesville’s Omni Hotel, was a member of the 2014 Leadership Charlottesville class.
“All of the Navigators on our leadership team had been in school before, so we kind of knew the hills and valleys of what college life was all about,” Morgan said.
Morgan is mentoring Laurie Turner, a recent graduate of Charlottesville High School and the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center, who will be attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York City this fall.
“Everything seems to be going into place,” said Turner, who loves to cook Italian cuisine and experiment in the kitchen without the help of recipes. “I’m pretty terrified of leaving, but pretty excited at the same time.” Above all, Turner said she looks forward to getting experience in the field and receiving feedback on how to improve her skills.
As Turner prepares to enter her program, Morgan is there to assist her.
“Most people would think that they would need help with some kind of essay that they would need to write or some kind of tutoring, but that wasn’t it at all,” said Morgan.
Instead, students reported needing practical advice about how to deal with the transition into taking more responsibility for keeping up with tasks like laundry. Morgan has helped Turner navigate her school’s financial aid office and given her advice on getting a new job.
“He’s been a friend to me,” Turner said. “He doesn’t seem like an adult. He’s always checking up on me and seeing how I am and how my weekend’s going and how I’m getting ready for school.”
Upon completion of school, Turner wants to open a soup kitchen, which Morgan said is laudable.
“She doesn’t want to go to New York City or Miami Beach or something and become a chef,” Morgan said. “She wants to bring it back to Charlottesville.”
In addition to Turner’s professional goals, Morgan also respects her personality and drive. “The thing I just love about her is that she’s just the most outgoing girl I’ve ever met, extremely dedicated, happy as can be,” Morgan said.
Morgan and Seaman both emphasized that to have long-term success, the program must retain Navigators who are willing and able to stay with their students for the duration of their college years.
“In an ideal world, everybody stays put and is attached to their student and celebrates their graduation together, but that may or may not happen,” Seaman said. “We are prepared to keep recruiting Navigators and training them so should someone drop out, we can replace them.”
Morgan agreed that replacing a Navigator should be seen as a last resort.
“We don’t want people coming in and out of kids’ lives,” Morgan said. “In most cases there are no immediate parents in their lives.”
Since 2004, the Charlottesville Scholarship Program has awarded 82 scholarships to low- and middle-income community members who seek to improve their education. Many are the first in their families to go to college. Although this year’s recipients were primarily high school students, the scholarship is open to anyone who has graduated from a Charlottesville school, including adults seeking higher education.
“The main thing is not to count out a student just because of a tough upbringing,” Morgan said. “Just because someone hasn’t had the best upbringing doesn’t mean that they don’t have the right head on their shoulders, and that they’re not dedicated, eager to learn and to get what they want out of life.”