GE Foundation Scholars Program Celebrates 17 Years in Support of Gifted Minority Students

News Story: August 1, 2010

A $300,000 grant to Sacred Heart University’s GE Foundation Scholars Program will help academically talented minority students fulfill their dreams.
In its 17th year, the scholars program is funded by the GE Foundation, which is the philanthropic arm of the General Electric Company and works to strengthen educational quality for disadvantaged youth globally and supports employee and retiree giving and involvement in GE communities around the world.
The $300,000 will fund the program for three years, beginning in the upcoming academic year. The grant supports scholarships for and the retention of full-time SHU undergraduate minority students in the fields of math, science, information technology and quantitative business disciplines, such as accounting, finance or economics.
Over the course of the next three years, 18 students will benefit; each will receive $3,500 per year. Those eligible to participate in the multi-faceted program must achieve a minimum 3.0 grade point average and have demonstrated financial need, United States citizenship or resident alien status and a proven interest in math, science, information technology or one of the quantitative business disciplines.
The defining element of the program is the retention component, which focuses on academic, social and career counseling activities; personal growth and development; and community service projects. Over 16 years, 175 students have participated and 135 have graduated, with a retention rate of more than 90 percent of students in the program each year.
Virginia Stephens, the SHU program director, said the scholars are “really good students who need and want to stay in school.” And, she said, the program gives the students a well-rounded experience. Students can participate in workshops for leadership training, team building, workplace reality and a myriad other topics. The students also are exposed to culture and enrichment, such as the theater. “They are provided an opportunity they might not otherwise be afforded,” said Stephens.
Community service is a central facet of the program. The scholars must perform a minimum of 20 hours of community service per semester. With SHU’s active involvement in the Greater Bridgeport area, said Stephens, the students have a multitude of opportunities in which to volunteer. One of the activities is an after-school program at John Winthrop Elementary School in Bridgeport where the scholars are role models, mentors and tutors to fifth- and sixth-graders. Students also have done community service at home on semester breaks. Stephens noted that some students helped out in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Tracking the success of the scholars program is not difficult, and Stephens is quick to turn to one student as an example. She related the story of a young man from Haiti, who was separated from his family, had completed high school and attained his U.S. citizenship. “But he just didn’t see much beyond high school,” said Stephens. He took a job at a pharmacy, where one of the technicians encouraged him to enroll in college. He became a student at SHU, benefited from the scholars program, graduated and is now a nurse at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport.
The commitment from the GE Foundation, said Stephens, enables the students to “go on to do great things.”
"GE Foundation understands that the money is important but so is staying connected and being supported, she said."
Virginia Harris, SHU’s director of foundations and grants, added, “Without the support provided through the program, many would not have been able to continue or to complete their education at the university.
“Many scholars are in extreme financial need and must work 20 hours or more each week, while maintaining a full course load and meeting all program requirements. The scholarship lessens the financial burden and allows for more study time and greater involvement in university life, which will result in improved satisfaction, increased opportunities for personal growth and development, higher grades, and thus enhanced graduate school and employment options. Current and past students have thrived in the program, developed a clear sense of community; became actively involved in the total university experience, and developed a strong connection to the university.”