toller_celebration_bellThe Arkansas Alumni Association’s alumni scholarship program will award $1 million to 442 University of Arkansas students for the current academic year. Robin January, scholarship coordinator for the association, received the final two acceptance letters from scholarship awardees.

“We finally hit the $1 million mark for 2013-14 scholarships,” she exclaimed in an email to Alumni Association staff.

The program began in 1990 as an idea to support future alumni through student scholarships, and awarded $1,600 a year to two scholarship recipients– Shane Benbrook and Kristin Cooper Maris – in its first year. Since that time, alumni and friends of the association have worked to increase the number of recipients and the dollar amount given to future alumni.

“I’ve had the privilege of overseeing the Alumni Association’s growing scholarship program for 10 years,” January said. “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.”

Early each year, January reaches out to former alumni scholars, the association’s national board of directors, association staff and volunteers to participate in the annual scholarship review. “What is remarkable about our program is the personal approach we have taken in regards to our selection and engagement of alumni scholars,” she said.

For two days, volunteers are asked to read hundreds of applications, searching for students who stand out among their peers and who would represent the University of Arkansas in a positive light. In 2013, nearly 50 volunteers read more than 450 applications submitted by students across the country.

Heather Nelson, a board member who has participated in the scholarship review for many years, clears her calendar each year in preparation for the annual scholarship review.

“I always say it is the best two days of my year, and I really mean it.” She said. “So much in our lives we take for granted, and it is the norm, and repetitive, … but every year for two days, I am assured that I am going to be doing something completely unselfish … while also being inspired.”

Nelson has become one of the many faces of scholarship advocacy, speaking to former, current and future alumni about her experience and how important those two days are to her, the association and the U of A.

Former “Roads” scholar Kristen Allbritton still remembers her feeling when she learned she received a scholarship from the Alumni Association.

“Receiving the ‘Roads’ Scholarship was my first true introduction to the Arkansas Alumni Association and what great things it does for the university,” she said. This ignited a passion in me to remain involved and connected to the association, something of which I am still very much a part of today. It meant so much to be selected among a talented group of students for this scholarship, and it proved to me that working hard does pay off. This award helped me to achieve a dream of funding my college education through scholarships and not placing the financial burden on my parents.”

The association adheres to strict criteria when selecting students for scholarships. Grade point averages are calculated into the overall point system but only account for a small portion of the overall scoring. Instead, volunteers are encouraged to score a student based on leadership qualities, academic history and overall character.

“Each year, I am amazed by our scholarship recipients and what they accomplish during their time at the university. Not only are they performing well academically, they are engaged in the community and abroad,” January said.

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.