Watson-Odyssey scholarship offers opportunities for first generation college students

I think support is probably one of the biggest (services the program offers). Being able to turn to your family for advice about college decisions isn’t always an option.
– Kristin Greene, senior

Their drive for excellence matches the profile of an Elon University student, but their path to achievement differs.

“We’re like a lot of the students in terms of academic pursuits, but not the same in terms of financial status,” said senior Kristin Greene, Watson Scholar and interim assistant director for the Multicultural Center.

Students in the Watson-Odyssey Scholarship program, designed for generation college students from low-income families, often lack the same resources to which the majority of Elon students have access.

While resources include tangible items, such as textbooks and class materials, even guidance about college life requires a different source. For these scholars, questions regarding class schedule are often better directed toward those in the Elon community affiliated with the program, Greene said.

“I think support is probably one of the biggest (services the program offers),” Greene said. “Being able to turn to your family for advice about college decisions isn’t always an option.”

Watson and Odyssey Scholarships serves as an umbrella term for numerous scholarships designed to serve a population not historically recognized at Elon, said Leon Williams, director of the Multicultural Center. The addition of The Elon Commitment scholars last year, who are also classified as Watson scholars, represents the most recent expansion of the program.

Breaking into the community

Photo submitted by Daniel McLaughlin

Watson-Odyssey scholars organized a Masquerade Ball fundraiser April 21 in McKinnon Hall to raise money for Kids Read, Inc, a non-profit organization junior Brenna Humphries, an Odyssey scholar, established. Kids Read provides books to inner city hospitals and libraries. The Watson-Odyssey scholars raised $370.

Zana Milak, an Odyssey scholar, developed the ball as her Legacy project and worked with a committee to plan the event.

Although the ball supported the scholars’ recognition of needs in the community, said Kristin Greene, Watson Scholar and interim assistant director for the Multicultural Center, she most enjoyed the opportunity for those in the program to intermingle with the rest of the Elon community.

“It was one of the first things I’ve seen us do that had a large representation of our scholars and a large representation of non-scholars,” she said. “I thought that was one of the coolest things.” [/box]

Although the program focuses on those from low-income families who are the first in their family to attend college or university, the scholarship is commonly misconstrued as a service reserved for racial and ethnic minorities, according to Williams. Nevertheless, the group of recipients exhibits a great amount of racial diversity, he said.

“The university’s commitment to keep this as a focal point and the donors who have ear marked their contributions to go to students that fit these particular profiles ultimately broaden the scope of what we think about diversity,” Williams said.

While the program enhances socio-economic diversity within the Elon community, it also unites a group that has come from similar background, Greene said.

While the scholars receive financial assistance, the program’s curriculum also empowers the students to embrace the adversity they experienced and translate challenges into motivation to excel at Elon, Williams said.

Each year Watson-Odyssey scholars explore a new theme that promotes student development. First year students focus on identity, inner strength and ability; sophomores examine leadership roles and learn to select activities that compliment career goals and personal interests; juniors focus on global issues; and seniors study civic responsibility to better understand their duty to the program and the university.

“There is a different level of investment in understanding students that come from these backgrounds prior to arriving to Elon,” Williams said.

Orientation programs, the Watson-Odyssey Scholar curriculum and the Multicultural Center help guide their experience, he said. Historically, the Multicultural Center has acted as a resource for information regarding research, literature and trends to advance student retention and reach graduation.

Williams said education and awareness of the program should transform sympathy into empathy, increasing recognition for the academic achievements of these individuals.

While Greene said she believes Elon has built awareness of the program since her freshman year, Williams said a large portion of the Elon community belonging to this population has been ignored.

“We have completely missed the conversation on how faculty, staff and administration are first year college students themselves, so we’re being taught from people that come from the same background and challenges,” he said.

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