12821237045_86a0e33a2d_mTwenty-five years ago, the Arkansas Alumni Association accepted the challenge to fund a merit scholarship – a scholarship that would reward the students for their accomplishments in the academic and leadership arena. It would also attract outstanding students to the University of Arkansas.

It started with awarding $1,600 a year to two scholarship recipients – Shane Benbrook and Kristin Cooper Maris. Thus, the Arkansas Alumni Association Scholarship Program was born.

Through the years, the scholarship program continued to grow through its members, chapters and societies, now sponsoring five scholarships and grant programs. Scholarships are available for both incoming students and current students. Many of the alumni scholarships are renewable throughout a student’s four years; however, the student must maintain a specific grade point average to have his or her scholarship renewed.

“I’ve had the privilege of overseeing the Alumni Association’s growing scholarship program for 10 years,” said Robin January, scholarship coordinator. “Since that time, our total dollars awarded has increased by 550 percent and our average scholarship award has more than doubled. This million dollar milestone would not be possible without our more than 29,000 alumni members, 25,000 plus Razorback collegiate license plate owners, alumni chapters and societies across the country, and generous donors who contribute to our named scholarship endowments.”

In 1994, the scholarship program received a boost with the creation of the Razorback Collegiate License Plates, also known as Hog Tags, in Arkansas. More than 26,000 plates are in circulation with $25 from each plate funding the “Roads” Scholarships. Missouri followed suit with $25 of each license place going back to the Alumni Association chapter scholarships in that state.

In 2009, the Membership Scholarship was added, providing a portion of each paid Alumni Association membership to the scholarship fund. Those memberships have helped nearly 100 students continue their education at the U of A.

Since 1990, the Alumni Association has awarded 3,500 scholarships totaling nearly $6 million. Last year, the scholarship program hit a milestone, awarding more than $1 million to more than 400 outstanding U of A students in a single year. This year the Alumni Association will surpass that amount, awarding close to $1.1 million to more than 450 students.

In August, the 25th group of Arkansas Alumni Association freshman scholars began classes, adding to a long list of incredible scholars who have received diplomas from the U of A.

Often, past scholars are among a group of about 35 volunteers who spend two days in February reviewing hundreds of scholarship applicants. Benbrook, who now works in the internal audit department at the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System in Little Rock, is one of the dedicated volunteers.

Benbrook said he volunteers every year because the alumni scholarship “gave me a free education that can never be taken away from me.” He said he’s a member of the Alumni Association because “I believe in the Alumni Association and everything they do for current and past students.”

Read about what the scholars are doing in our scholarship blog.

If you are a former recipient, the Alumni Association would like to know where you are now. Whether it’s been 20 years or 20 days since you’ve been on campus, you remain a special part of our program. During the next few months, current and past scholars will be featured in Alumni Association publications.

For more information about available Alumni Association scholarships, visit www.arkansasalumni.org/scholarships. The 2015 freshman scholarship application is now available at www.arkansasalumni.org/FRscholarships. Priority postmark deadline is Dec. 1, 2014. Final postmark deadline is Feb. 2, 2015.