August 01, 2007

Campaign to boost scholarships for women, minorities

by Christi Mathis


CARBONDALE, Ill. – For some prospective college students, the ability and the desire to earn a diploma are strong, but the financing simply isn't available. Project Hope and Opportunity is a new initiative created by Southern Illinois University Carbondale to help the dream come true for some deserving students.

"Project Hope and Opportunity is being created to provide equal opportunities and financial assistance to minority students and other traditionally underrepresented populations, including women," said Seymour L. Bryson, associate chancellor for diversity. "It's a focused, strategic campaign that will use a variety of methods to seek endowments and donations from individuals and corporations. This is the first time we've ever undertaken a project like this. We're all pretty excited to be able to return some of the help we received when we were students."

The goal is to raise $1 million to enhance the Dr. James E. Walker Presidential Scholarship Fund, created last year in honor of the late SIU president. Through the leadership of Senate President Emil Jones, Jr., SIU received a $1 million state appropriation for the fund. More than 150 students received assistance at Southern Illinois University's Carbondale and Edwardsville campuses, as well as the law school, MedPrep program and the School of Medicine in Springfield. SIU officials are working with the General Assembly to renew the appropriation this year.

Supporters of Project Hope and Opportunity hope to reach the goal within the next 18 months or so, but the campaign may extend beyond that as scholarship funding is sought to help address the short- and long-range needs of the institution and students, Bryson said. SIU President Glenn Poshard, Bryson's office, the School of Medicine's Medical Preparation Program and the Office of Institutional Advancement are initiating and supporting Project Hope and Opportunity. Financial need and academic achievement are the award criteria for the scholarships, according to Bryson.

Chairing the initiative, designed to assist SIUC students, are Bryson and fellow SIU alumni and supporters Dr. Wrophas Meeks, radiologist; Harold R. Bardo, director of the Medical-Dental Education Preparatory Program in the School of Medicine at SIU; William R. Norwood, former Board of Trustees member and retired captain and pilot for United Airlines; and Roland W. Burris, attorney and former Illinois comptroller and attorney general.

"I'm extremely grateful for the willingness of these gentlemen to head up such an important campaign," Poshard said. "Very bright students from low-income families need additional scholarships and this program will help many of them graduate from SIUC."

Bardo is proud of his long relationship with the University.

"This University has always been important to me," Bardo said. "I came here in 1957 as a student with help from an athletic scholarship. I came back in 1968 when they offered me a position and I obtained my advanced degrees here. This place is very special to me. In fact, it's my life. Some students are academically able but not financially able to come here, so it's time for us to give back in terms of funds to help it happen for them."

Norwood said he and his wife are alumni of the University and "we're trying to see if we can help others like people helped us. I see this as a way to help students who need the additional funds to attend the university. If each of us gives a little, it adds up to a lot."

Bryson said already commitments have come from some interested in developing endowed scholarships. Appeals for help to bolster the fundraising will go to alumni, friends of the University, faculty, staff, corporations and businesses.

"Funding a university education for deserving students has never been more important than at this time," SIUC Chancellor Fernando M. Treviño said. "I am delighted that Project Hope and Opportunity is helping us provide this critical support and that efforts are under way to assist even more needy students."

In fall 2006, minority students comprised nearly 23 percent of the undergraduate University enrollment and about 20.6 percent of the total student enrollment. SIUC ranks among the top 100 institutions in the country awarding degrees to African Americans and other minority students.

"I think Operation Hope and Opportunity will be a great opportunity for recruiting and retaining minorities at the University," Meeks said.

"Project Hope and Opportunity is recognition on the part of Dr. Poshard of the current and future student population who are in need of financial assistance and support," Bryson said. In fact, the name itself comes from Poshard's inaugural address in which he said, "To what were our children born? To hope, to opportunity, to the future that Southern Illinois University can offer."