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First Gen

Wofford makes first-gen commitment

College will award $300,000 in scholarships each year for students who are the first in their families to attend college.

For Patricia Orozco ’18, the biggest influence on her decision to attend college came from her parents—who never made it past the sixth grade in their home country of Mexico. Now, the Wofford College sophomore—the first in her family to go to college—encourages other high school students to become college pioneers.

“My advice to them would be to move forward,” says Orozco, who says her parents always encouraged her in her lifelong dream of going to college. “If there’s something or someone holding them back, let it go and move forward. There’s always help available, and there should not be a reason for someone not to go to college and study what they want to study.”

Now, Wofford College is providing additional support for these students, announcing plans to commit $300,000 in scholarships for 15 first-generation college students from South Carolina to attend Wofford. Five of those scholarships will be designated for students coming from Spartanburg County.

“Every year a number of outstanding first-generation students enroll at Wofford. We want to continue that tradition and make attending Wofford more affordable,” Brand Stille ’86, vice president for enrollment, says. “To do this, we announced the addition of 15 merit scholarships, valued at $20,000 per year, to be awarded to South Carolina students who represent the first generation in their families to attend college. These scholarships will be awarded on a competitive basis using admission applications.”

“I believe these scholarships will be a great opportunity for first-generation students,” says Orozco, who is a Bonner Scholar and Wofford Ambassador. “Wofford is a great college, but many students are discouraged from applying because they do not know where or how to get more scholarships. A scholarship program for first-generation students will encourage them to apply here.”

According to Wofford President Nayef Samhat, nearly 15 percent of Wofford students are the first in their families to attend college.

“Wofford College is committed to providing transformative education experiences that are both accessible and affordable,” says Samhat. “First-generation college students go back and change the future of their family trees. They make their communities better places in which to live and raise families. This new scholarship program for first-generation students is intended to keep these outstanding students in our community for their college years and beyond. This scholarship is just one way that Wofford College is demonstrating its commitment to lifting our state and nation by educating the citizen-leaders of tomorrow.”

Last year the New York Times recognized Wofford as one of the most economically diverse colleges in the country and recently named Wofford among the “Top Colleges Doing the Most for Low-Income Students.” First-generation students at Wofford are similar academically to other students at the college, Stille says, but they are more likely to be underrepresented minority students. 

“This initiative continues to build on our strength in economic diversity and may enhance other types of diversity, too,” says Stille. “We want first-generation students to know that financial aid is available at Wofford and that meeting the cost of a private liberal arts college may be possible for them.” 

A significant number of first-generation students at Wofford come from Spartanburg County, Stille says, explaining why five of the merit scholarships have been set aside for students from Spartanburg: “This is our community, and we want to encourage and help students from our surrounding area to attend Wofford.” 

Orozco, a biology major who plans to attend medi-cal school, says she wants to come back to the Spartanburg community to serve the large Hispanic community here after she becomes a doctor. 

Dr. Carol Wilson: providing a base of support and fostering academic courage

Watching students grow in confidence

Carol Wilson ’81 serves as professor of English and coordinator of academic advising at Wofford College. She enjoys teaching all students but has a special place in her heart for first-generation college students. As an academic coach, she advises students about time management and study strategies, but she also understands that students need good partners across the campus community who will offer college resources that support academic success. When she meets with a student for the first time, she starts by asking lots of questions about the student’s hopes and goals. Wilson may also talk about football, basketball, video games, even Lilly Pulitzer... whatever it takes to build her credibility and to establish a relationship with the students who come to her for advice about academic success.

In academic coaching, she has learned a lot from Wofford’s athletics teams, for whom performance is the measure of academic as well as athletic success. “I love the idea of a ‘read step,’ a physical move that student-athletes use to give themselves mental space to evaluate choices before them on a court or field,” says Wilson. “A student-athlete on the football team explained the concept to me, and I often encourage students to examine their academic opportunities fully, evaluate what’s before them and use the resources that Wofford offers as well as all they know to decide how to proceed.” Wilson has surprised more than one Wofford football student-athlete by asking about their read step.

“For many students, the chance to get an education at Wofford is the biggest opportunity that they’ve ever had. They want to establish their place at the college and perform well quickly. We talk a good bit about academic courage because a student who is fearless on the football field—catching a pass in the middle of the field knowing that he’s about to be hit—can use that same confidence when he raises his hand in class. Watching students grow in confidence and presence is the best part of my job.” 

New York Times ranks Wofford among ‘Top Colleges Doing Most for Low-Income Students’

Wofford leads South Carolina institutions

The New York Times has ranked Wofford College among the “Top Colleges Doing the Most for Low-Income Students,” at #70, making it the top-ranked South Carolina institution on the listing of 179 colleges and universities.

To measure top colleges’ efforts on economic diversity, the newspaper’s David Leonhardt, in his The Upshot blog, created the College Access Index. He bases his ranking on the share of students who receive Pell grants (which typically go to families making less than $70,000 annually), the graduation rate of those students and the price that colleges charge for low- and middle-income students.

This is the second year the New York Times has put Wofford on its “most economically diverse” listing. Last year, Wofford also was the top South Carolina institution on the list. The 2014 listing was based on four-year graduation rates; this year’s colleges with a five-year graduation rate of 75 percent or higher are included, adding more colleges to this year’s rankings.

Wofford is one of only three South Carolina institutions on the list. The other two are Clemson University (71) and Furman University (161).

“Colleges obviously can’t solve all of the economy’s problems,” Leonhardt writes, “but there is a reason that nearly all families that can comfortably send their children to college do so. For families that aren’t as comfortable, some colleges are doing much more to help than others.” 

Wofford President Nayef Samhat notes: “Wofford continues to be among the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country on the key issues that most concern families when it comes to higher education—access, diversity, quality and completion. Wofford’s extraordinary and transformational educational experience is accessible, socio-economically diverse, and we graduate superior students on time.” 

Carolyn B. Sparks, director of financial aid at Wofford, says, “Wofford works to attract Pell-eligible students by offering institutional need-based and merit aid as well as other federal and state funds, which can make a student’s aid package more affordable and attractive. Our financial aid plan encompasses other areas of diversity as well, such as geographic, ethnic or racial, and international.”

For the full listing, go to:

nytimes.com/interactive/2015/09/17/upshot/top-colleges-doing-the-most-for-low-income-students.html 

Robyn Cornett ’17

a business economics major with an accounting minor from Rock Hill, S.C., is actively involved with the Arcadia Volunteer Corps and Nutrition Now.

My parents run their own heating and air-conditioning business. Having a college degree would have helped them, and I know from watching them that a college degree will be a great asset for me if I own my own business one day. I chose Wofford because the college offered me a great financial aid package, and I fell in love with the beautiful campus.”

Terrance Morris ’16

a mathematics major from Chester, S.C., plays outside linebacker for the Terriers. He was sidelined in August after tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus during the preseason. 

Where I’m from, higher education is a rare thing. I apply myself at whatever I do so that I can take advantage of this opportunity. My environment motivated me to be successful. Teachers put me on an honors track in middle school, and since then I’ve always worked to be the best that I can be, whether in the classroom, on the football field or in society. I’m grateful that Wofford chose me. Coach Nathan Fuqua ’03 put his faith in me, and now I’m here getting a great education and playing football on a championship team.”

Carol Morel ’17

a chemistry and environmental studies major from Fort Mill, S.C., works during the summer to help meet tuition and living expenses. She plans to earn a Ph.D. in environmental chemistry.

“It was important to my parents and to me that I go to college. My dad and his brother own a small business in New York that handles shipping and transportation. He also drives a truck because that’s what he enjoys most about the business. Both he and my mom wanted me to have a different life. I gravitated toward smaller liberal arts colleges and chose Wofford because I knew I would need as much support as I could get. Wofford welcomed me and has given me so many opportunities. Cost was definitely a factor for me, and the Bonner Scholarship helped. The stipend I receive helped me pay the expenses for my internship with the Smithsonian Institute this past summer.”