New scholarship helps contract employees earn a college degree

Carter, her adviser says, has a "love of learning and is a great student." (Photo: James Byard/Washington University)

Bon Appetit employee Angela Carter started at Spelman College in Atlanta in 1980, back in the era of Wite-Out and microfiche. So when Washington University in St. Louis offered her a chance to attend University College classes for free, she was both excited and nervous.

“So much had changed; the Internet didn’t even exist when I was in school,” said Carter, who left Spelman to raise her two children. “I knew there would be a lot new for me to learn. But I also knew the opportunity to finish college was too important to pass up.”

Carter enrolled in University College through the Washington University Contract Employee Scholarship program which is available on a first-come, first-serve basis to the 700 contract employees who work full time at Washington University. Students may use the scholarship to earn an undergraduate degree or simply to explore a new topic.

The program grew out of discussions, initiated by Mark Rollins, chair of the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences and incoming dean of University College, about ways to address the “Delmar Divide,” the historic dividing line between St. Louis’ more affluent, white neighborhoods and its poorer, predominantly black neighbors north of Delmar.

Hank Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration, said several Washington University studies, including Jason Purnell’s “For the Sake of All” prove that disparities in health care, education and economic opportunities hurt the region and its residents.

“This program is a win-win,” Webber said. “The scholarship allows individual contract employees to gain access to high-quality education at no cost. It also benefits the university and the contract organizations by making Washington University an even more appealing workplace, thereby allowing our contract organizations to attract and retain the best employees in St. Louis.”

Washington University has committed to contributing $50,000 annually to the scholarship fund. Three of the university’s nine service contractors — Aramark, which provides management services for the Knight Center; AlliedBarton Security Services and WFF Facility Services — also have donated to the scholarship fund.

WFF President Jonathan Campbell said contributing to the program “makes a world of sense” for his business.

“For our employees to have an opportunity like this at an institution like Washington University is really unique ,” said Campbell, who has committed $10,000 to the scholarship. “We think education is critical at all levels, and if we can provide another platform for our employees to take a step forward in their lives, we are absolutely committed to doing that.”

Carter’s next step may be her own catering company. So far, she has taken courses in nutrition, music and business organization and administration.

Elisa Wang, Carter’s adviser and coordinator of student services at University College, said it is thrilling to watch Carter succeed. She has helped Carter find courses that match her interests and her level of preparation.

“Angela has discovered a love of learning and is a great student,” Wang said. “I would love to see more employees take that leap. If you have had some college, we will find the right course for you. And if you haven’t, that’s OK too. We will start at the beginning.”

University College offers a college success seminar every semester to help new students prepare for the classroom. Contract employees also meet with an adviser every semester to get the support they need. In addition, they have access to the Washington University Libraries, the Writing Center, Cornerstone and a host of other student services.

“What I tell students is, ‘Try it. Get the resources you need and stick it out.’  We are committed to helping people in the community succeed — and we have the resources to do so,’ ” Wang said.

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