Creating Strong Scholars
For all students, college is a whole new world full of unique opportunities, challenges and experiences, but for those who are the first in their families to attend, navigating the unfamiliar environment can be difficult. To help guide these students through the life-changing transition, the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) is launching the Proud to Be First Scholars Program, which matches full-time, first-generation freshmen with dedicated faculty mentors. The program was made possible through a generous donation from UMSL economics professor emeritus Susan Feigenbaum and her husband, Dr. Jay S. Pepose of Pepose Vision Institute.
Feigenbaum and Pepose are both first-generation college graduates themselves, so they have a personal understanding of the unique challenges these students face. They also know first hand the positive impact a mentor can have. “The college experience for first-generation students is very different because they can’t get advice from their parents on everything,” Pepose says. “Without mentors to guide me and expand my horizons, I don’t know if I would have found my passion for science and medicine. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without them.”
As an educator, Feigenbaum filled the role of mentor many times, and she hopes the program will provide much-needed support. “In my 40 years in higher education, one of the most important things I’ve learned is that students succeed when they have someone to guide them and provide honest advice,” she says. She adds that while most institutions have academic resources in place for students, the program’s mentor relationships will go much deeper. “It’s ongoing support and care for students as unique individuals,” Feigenbaum explains.
Participating students also are awarded a scholarship to cover tuition, fees and books, and they receive a smallyearly stipend. As juniors, they receive additional funding to study abroad or participate in an out-of-state internship.“It’s amazing how many students have never been outside St. Louis,” Feigenbaum says. “The program will provide access to opportunities they otherwise may not have.” Seniors in the program will be matched with community mentors to help them transition into their careers.
“UMSL’s mission is to provide educational opportunities to all, regardless of family or financial circumstances,” says chancellor Thomas George, Ph.D. “We’re very grateful to Susan Feigenbaum and Jay Pepose for their generosity.” The program was created in memory of former department of economics chair Sharon Levin and to honor chancellor emeritus Blanche Touhill, who Feigenbaum says brought important attention to the project.
The program will launch in the fall with four freshmen, and Feigenbaum says everyone involved is working hard to raise an endowment so more students can participate. “The ultimate goal is that every first-generation student has a long-term mentor,” she notes. Pepose adds that they are excited to be able to serve the community by supporting access to education.“St. Louis has been a great place for me and my family,” he says. “Part of our motivation is to help a wonderful community that already has given us a tremendous amount.”
Pictured at top: UMSL economics professor emeritus Susan Feigenbaum and Dr. Jay S. Pepose.
Photo: August Jennewein