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Alums launch scholarship for 'underdog' students who work while at ASU

Gritty Scholarship to be a resource for students who persevere

students walking on campus

The Gritty Scholarship will benefit ASU students who are working their way through college.

March 15, 2024

Two Arizona State University alums are raising money for a scholarship to help students who are “underdogs.”

The Gritty Scholarship will benefit ASU students who are average students, working their way through college. In fact, there’s a grade point average maximum of 3.5 for recipients, about a B-plus.

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Grace and Ryan O’Sullivan, who both earned undergraduate and master’s degrees at ASU, are raising money for the Gritty Scholarship because they were in the same boat.

“We were — I like to call it — academically unremarkable students. We were average students who came from middle-class upbringings. We both attended public schools in Arizona, and we were both working while we were going to ASU,” said Grace O’Sullivan, who is vice president for corporate engagement and strategic partnerships at ASU.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in justice studies and her husband, Ryan O’Sullivan, earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. They both earned master’s degrees in business administration.

“We were just nose to the grindstone, get through it, get our degrees, work, make a living and get on with it,” she said.

So they started the Gritty Scholarship to provide resources for students who show perseverance and grit while working through school. The couple is about one-third of the way toward raising the $25,000 that is required to endow a scholarship.

Man and woman pose for photo in front of painting
Ryan and Grace O'Sullivan started the Gritty Scholarship for students who work while going to ASU. Courtesy photo

Grace O’Sullivan explained why they decided to have a GPA cap for recipients.

“This isn't for overachievers — there's enough opportunities out there for people like that," she said.

“We wanted this for people who are working, who have to make ends meet, and who attended public schools and are just looking to make it through.”

Grace O’Sullivan worked as an art-therapy instructor at a nonprofit for homeless children and also full time as an office manager for the American Civil Liberties Union while getting her degree.

On the Gritty Scholarship website, she shared her experience navigating work and college: “I spent my days in an office and fighting rush hour traffic to attend evening classes where I embarrassingly often nodded off.”

Ryan O’Sullivan, who is vice president for real estate and development for PetSmart, also worked through college.

“My main job was at a used record store in Tempe — Eastside Records. I worked there about seven years, and that was my entire time at ASU because it took me about six-and-a-half years to get my undergrad,” he said.

“I would take a semester off or take a few credits here and there, so it was a protracted experience for me, which I enjoyed.”

Scholarships weren’t even on the radar for Grace and Ryan O’Sullivan, but they realized that some financial help back then could have allowed them to focus more on academics. And they also were inspired by ASU’s focus on access and inclusion, with a place for everyone.

“We joke that despite being middle-of-the-road college students, we turned out OK,” Grace O’Sullivan said.

“Ryan's an executive at a national retailer and I get to work for the largest public research university in the U.S.

“So we want to give back and show people that even if you're not academically stellar, that working hard can lead to wonderful opportunities in the future.”

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