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Scholarships open doors of education to deserving students

Marquis Quarles
March 27, 2013

ASU and the ASU Foundation recognize importance of endowment program at symposium

Marquis Quarles remembers the first time he realized that an education could lift him out of the poverty and violence that had marred his childhood in south Phoenix.

He had followed a family member from Phoenix to an apartment in Tempe only to be evicted a short time later.

He found himself homeless at 16. The only way to continue attending McClintock High School was to bunk down on friends’ couches. They were welcoming enough but he couldn’t shake the feeling that, after several days, he had overstayed his welcome.

Yet in spite of his fly-by-night existence, Quarles managed to earn a 3.5 GPA his sophomore year.

“The family I was staying with, they had a big party,” he remembers, smiling. “That was the first time I realized that school was going to take me somewhere.”

That opportunity – to open the doors of education to deserving students – is what drove ASU one year ago to partner with the ASU Foundation to launch the New American University Scholarship Matching Program, an ambitious effort to generate scholarships for academically talented students with limited financial resources.

ASU and the foundation celebrated the success of the program, March 27, at the second annual New American University Scholarship Symposium, where student recipients spoke about the impact scholarship support has had on their lives.

Under most circumstances, the odds of a student like Quarles pursuing a higher education are slim. As ASU President Michael M. Crow has pointed out, a child born into the lowest quartile of U.S. income earners has about a 10 percent chance of going to college. Those in the highest quartile have an 80 percent chance.

As part of the scholarship program, ASU matches up to 4 percent of an endowment of $50,000 or more for 10 years. That means an endowment that typically generates $1,875 a year instead provides $3,875. An existing $50,000 endowment that is doubled can go from generating $4,750 annually to $7,750, depending on market conditions.

Since its inception, the program has generated 18 new endowments totaling nearly $2 million, says Mary Negri, foundation director of development for student success.

Just as important, Negri says, is that the matching program has elevated the conversation about scholarships at ASU. In a typical year about 25 endowments are established, but she says in the first two quarters of 2013 there have been 41, including the 18 in the matching program.

“It’s encouraging other people to do other endowments,” she says. “Everyone’s talking about it.”

And that’s a good thing for ASU and scholarship recipients, as Negri says the matching program is part of a strategic plan to increase the foundation’s total endowment for scholarships by $100 million in 10 years, to $275 million.

It is important that ASU increase its endowment, she says, because while the university has experienced a marked increase in attendance and student financial need, it has also experienced steep decreases in state funding.

One way to gauge financial need is the Federal Pell Grant Program. The number of ASU undergraduate students eligible for the grant has increased 181 percent since 2001, according to statistics from Negri’s office.

In 2011-12, 34,057 – close to half – of ASU’s more than 73,000 students demonstrated financial need and were awarded aid.

Quarles was one of them.

Moving from home to home made Quarles feel sad and beholden, “like I was taking something from all those families,” he says. Yet it also gave him the chance to build a community of supporters who wanted to see him succeed, a family of sorts. He says he gleaned whatever he could from each relationship, everything from learning what it means to have a solid work ethic to how intact families function.

Then Quarles  landed on the couch of Tempe residents John C. and Jennifer Smith. Quarles says John’s first response upon seeing him was, “Why is this kid on my couch?” but that John eventually talked with him about his struggles and plans. Then John announced one day, “Kid, you live here.” The Smiths never formally adopted Quarles, but consider him a part of the family.

Family and scholarships make a difference

A supportive family paired with scholarship opportunities helped launch Quarles to new heights.

In high school he applied to the Achieving a College Education (ACE) program at Mesa Community College. The dual-enrollment scholarship program allowed him to earn 24 college credit hours by going to school on Saturdays and during the summer.

While many high school students would balk at summer school, Quarles jumped at the chance. He met other students who aspired to overcome their circumstances through hard work and they became his friends and mentors.

He began to see the fruits of his hard work. Tempe named him one of its Top Teens in 2010 and he won leadership awards that landed him meetings with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and current Gov. Jan Brewer.

He became a pharmacy technician through a partnership between MCC and the East Valley Institute of Technology, but he aspires to much more.

A university education, which had once seemed so remote, became reality when Quarles received ASU’s Carstens and Presidential scholarships. He also is a Barack Obama Scholar and the recipient of an Arizona College Foundation Scholarship for high-potential, low-income students.

Today he is a junior in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences earning a Bachelor of Science degree in economics with an emphasis on geographic information systems.

He is a peer mentor for CLAS, served as a research assistant, worked as a desk assistant for University Housing and currently is a desk receptionist for the ASU Foundation.

Meanwhile, he looks forward to graduating in December and seeing where his university degree will take him. “The biggest relief is knowing I can leave school without a lot of debt and knowing I can have a fresh start.”

Jennifer Smith agrees, “He truly has benefitted from his scholarships. It’s been amazing to see him work so hard and turn things around. We believe he is going to do great things.”

Melissa Bordow,
Communications Specialist | Editorial Services
ASU Foundation for A New American University