Wichita State University has been given $1 million to finance full-ride scholarships for students who are “the neediest of the needy.”
The gift from Give Something Back, which was announced Thursday afternoon in the lobby of Shocker Hall, is expected to provide for about 50 students in the Wichita area. Donations were also made to Baker University, Pittsburg State and Kansas State.
The recipients will be chosen in the ninth grade and mentored to ensure that they take the proper classes to prepare them for college, Give Something Back founder Robert Carr said.
They will be “the neediest of the needy,” Carr said, “kids that wouldn’t even be thinking about going to college” due to financial or family hardship.
“Basically, it’s a life-changing experience for these kids,” he said.
Founded in 2003, Give Something Back provides mentors and scholarships to help students go to college and graduate in four years. The organization has placed an emphasis on assisting students who are foster children or have parents who are incarcerated. Since the project began, more than 90 percent of the scholarship recipients have met the requirements and graduated, Carr said.
Wichita State is matching the $1 million donation to the university’s foundation with $1.4 million, which will be raised through private contributions.
WSU president John Bardo said Thursday’s announcement touches close to home for him. His wife grew up in a poor but loving family on Cleveland Street in Wichita. Their first apartment after getting married was at 13th and Vesta.
“It’s a long way (economically) from 13th and Vesta to 17th and Hillside,” where WSU is located, Bardo said. “It can be done.”
Bardo said Wichita State is particularly well-placed to participate in the program because it has historically been a school where working-class students get an education to better their situations. Each of the institution’s presidents has focused on “a leg up, rather than a hand out,” he said.
“What you’re talking about is who we are,” Bardo told Carr during a news conference announcing the gift.
Bardo said his wife was able to succeed despite financial hardships because she had a loving family supporting her. But foster children or those who have incarcerated parents may well not have that — so the university will do what it can to provide a nurturing, supportive network.
“If we can get them here and help them graduate, we’ll not only change their lives, we’ll change the lives of generations yet unborn,” Bardo said.