Laura Jacobs, director of communications at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, participates in the 2013 annual Scholarship Review.

Laura Jacobs, director of communications at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, participates in the 2013 annual Scholarship Review.

Members of the Arkansas Alumni Association met Friday and Saturday to read more than 450 applications from high school seniors applying to the freshman scholarship program. The association will award 125 renewable scholarships totaling more than $350,000.

Of those awarded, two will receive the $6,500 Alumni Endowed scholarship. The remaining scholarships awarded at $2,500 include: Razorback Generations, “Roads” and Board of Directors scholarships.

Awarded students will be notified at the end of February.

Nearly 50 volunteers spent the weekend poring over scholarship packets that included two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a leadership statement, resume, transcript and an essay. Each scholarship packet was read by three people and scored based on leadership qualities, academic history and overall character.

“There are a tremendous amount of young people looking for assistance to pay for college,” alumni life member, Joel Wood, said Friday.

Wood narrows down the wide selection by looking for specific qualities in the individuals, he said.

“It’s not just about grades. It’s about being well rounded, developing skills in leadership, having good judgment and realizing you don’t live in the world by yourself,” Wood said. “You need to give back.”

Alumni volunteers read from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and continued through Saturday.

“I am humbled by the volunteers who dedicated so much of their time to this process,” Alumni Association scholarship coordinator, Robin January, said Monday. “Many of them travel hundreds of miles to participate and have to absorb the travel expenses. They are a committed group who believe in identifying the UA’s rising stars.”

Current Alumni Endowed scholarship recipient, Casey O’Grady, spoke at the scholarship review luncheon Friday.

A Florida native, O’Grady fell in love with the campus during a family weekend when she visited her older sister who swam for the Arkansas Swim Team. In her scholarship application essay, O’Grady wrote about visiting her sister and collecting Razorback memorabilia in hopes of joining her one day.

“I didn’t even know where Arkansas was at first,” O’Grady said. “But I love it now and this scholarship made it feasible in this economy for me to be here.”

Now a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, she was more than happy to offer gratitude to the alumni association for the $6,500 renewable scholarship at the luncheon.

Many alumni were moved by her speech.

The first person to ever receive the Arkansas Alumni scholarship, Shane Benbrook, has been helping with the scholarship review for six years and was impressed with O’Grady’s speech, he said. He remembered reading her scholarship packet two years ago.

“Casey is a great example of such a well-rounded student whose application really stood out from the stack,” Benbrook said.  “Her grades and activities inside and outside of school were outstanding.”

Benbrook was awarded the first Arkansas Alumni scholarship in 1990, which paid for his entire college career as an undergraduate. Coming from a single-parent household, Benbrook and his mother were very thankful for the financial help the Alumni Association offered.

“It was a great opportunity,” he said. “Without that scholarship I would have been up to my eyeballs in debt.”

He graduated with a degree in accounting and has had a successful career as an internal auditor. Always ambitious, he’s now studying to become a certified fraud examiner.

Benbrook knows first-hand the benefits of receiving an alumni scholarship and participates in the scholarship review as a way to give back, he said.

“It’s very rewarding to read about all these kids at the high level they’re coming in,” he said. “I tell people all the time, if I was to apply for this scholarship now there’s no way I would have won it because kids these days are so much smarter, more aggressive and well rounded.”