Washington University in St. Louis has announced a major new scholarship initiative that will support low-income and first-generation students from the St. Louis region.
The College Prep Scholarship will provide a Washington University undergraduate education to qualified graduates of its College Prep Program, a competitive, multiyear program that prepares high-achieving, low-income local students for college.
The scholarship supports two of the university’s top priorities — to make it a more diverse and welcoming campus, and to improve K-12 education in the St. Louis community.
“I am delighted,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said, “that Washington University is in the position – thanks to many generous donors who believe in the power of education to change lives – to offer these scholarships to first-generation St. Louis students who show great promise to succeed at Washington University, and then go on to improve the St. Louis region and, ultimately, the world.
“We never know where the next great doctor, scientist, writer, engineer, business leader or artist will come from, but we have great confidence that there are many such young people right here in our midst.”
Leah Merrifield, associate vice chancellor for community engagement and St. Louis college readiness initiatives, announced the need-based scholarship at the closing dinner and reception for the 25 members of the program’s first cohort. Admitted in 2013 as rising high school sophomores, these students have spent the past three summers on campus living and learning.
“This program has prepared you to thrive at any college, but we heard you when you told us that some of you would like to come here,” Merrifield said. “For scholars who successfully complete the high school component of the College Prep Program, apply, are admitted and demonstrate financial need, this scholarship helps make that possible.
“Cohort One, you did this! You made it possible for us to start a program that people on this campus could embrace and value,” she said.
The news was met with gasps and tears from students and their parents.
“I feel like I’m meant to be here,” said Ahreial Williams, a rising senior at Northwest Academy of Law in St. Louis Public Schools. “I have loved being here, but I couldn’t see how I could come to Washington University for college. Now I have a chance.”
The College Prep program launched with 26 students in 2013, and has since doubled in size. In 2015, 46 students were accepted, and, in 2016, 50 entered the program. College Prep is competitive; students must be nominated by someone who knows them well and demonstrate academic excellence. As scholars , the students take classes for college credit, participate in STEM labs and writing workshops and prepare for the ACT.
The goal, Merrifield said, is to build a community of scholars. But students said the program has meant even more.
“Thinking back, none of us knew what to expect,” said LaDarien Green, a rising senior at Affton High School. “None of us had ever been to college, and we were thinking it would be a fearful experience. But then everyone was so welcoming, and we all came together. We didn’t know each other, but now we are a family.”