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Bidstrup Foundation scholarships fuel first-generation student success

March 22, 2012

The first day of classes for most students offers a host of new experiences and challenges, but for first-generation college students at Arizona State University, this day represents a first for their family as well.

“Many students have the advantage of having parents who went to college or who are involved in academia,” says ASU senior Rebecca Coleman, a first-generation student pursuing a major in anthropology and a minor in biological sciences. “My parents taught me very good analytical and resourcefulness skills, which I think are two key aspects to success in college. But not growing up with knowledge of what college is all about makes attending university much more difficult.”

Offering exceptional students, such as Coleman, a little extra help, the Bidstrup Foundation Scholars Program, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was created by Regina and Peter Bidstrup – and the foundation has awarded 73 scholarships to first-generation undergraduate students in natural sciences, humanities and social sciences.

The scholarship allows students to shift time that would be dedicated to work to studying, learning the system, engaging in research, participating in campus activities or exploring personal pursuits. The funds also help cover one-time costs, such as the expense of applying to graduate, medical or other professional schools, as was the case for Coleman who enters graduate school this fall. A scholarship is of significant benefit too in that it also helps reduce the amount of loan funding for a student.    

The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences started the first-generation scholarship initiative in 2004.The Bidstrups were some of the first donors in the community to participate in this effort.

Jill DeMichele, a senior development officer and director of scholarship development for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, points out: “These are smart and talented students, who value their opportunity to earn a college degree. All but four awardees are currently enrolled or have earned their ASU degrees – a 95 percent success rate.”

“Many students have expressed their appreciation and indicated that they hope to help others in the future, just as The Bidstrup Foundation has for them,” says DeMichele. “Given the opportunity and the support, these students truly embody academic excellence at ASU.”  

The 46 Bidstrup scholars, who have graduated from ASU, have earned a total of 55 degrees – four completing two degrees each and one with three degrees. “If not for the scholarships I received, I might not be here finishing my degrees,” says Rhiannon Pare, who is triple majoring in history, art history and classical studies. “I’ve had a hard time these past few years and the Bidstrup’s faith in me means more than they could know. I cannot express how much I own them for their generosity.”

At least one of every three freshmen at ASU is a first-generation college student. Scholarships are awarded to students on a competitive basis, based on an application that includes academic merit-based criteria, financial need and a personal essay.

Coleman offers some advice to those following in her first-generational footsteps: “The best way to acclimate to an environment that you're not familiar with is to make connections – with other first-generation students, seventh-generation students, graduates, professors, advisors and everyone else – and develop a community of people who are willing to help you.”

“Take time to get to know your professors and cultivate professional relationships,” agrees Pare, who hopes to becomes a professor and author. “You will learn many lessons just by taking the time to talk with people who have gone through what you are currently, and survived.”

“While a formal education is essential, try to engage in other activities that help you learn skills and marketable talents,” notes James Lish, who will complete a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences this spring and enter the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix in July. “Take advantage of opportunities that are placed before you and if it doesn't look like you have many opportunities, create them.”

“It is always a good thing when you feel like people believe in you and express that belief in terms of tangible support,” adds Lish. “I assure the Bidstrups that their investment will pay great returns, in both the form of my future impact on my community and those of the other first-generation college students they’ve believed in.”

To learn more scholarships, including first-generation scholarships at ASU:

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