The Institute on Race and Ethnicity will host a group of students from Indianapolis in Little Rock August 14-16 as a part of a Civil Rights Immersion Tour. The students attend Ivy Tech State College-Central Indiana.
Before coming to UALR, I had the great fortune of helping to design a college scholarship support program for nontraditional students grounded in two fundamental principles:
- the best equalizer to racial and gender inequity is education; and
- the opportunity to attain a college degree needs to be extended to those too often overlooked by merit-based scholarship programs.
The Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholars officially launched in 2001 and serves adults 25 or older with dependents, young adults ages 18 to 24 who were raised in the child welfare system and are financially responsible for their own care, and adults with physical disabilities who have limited financial resources.
About the Nina Mason Pulliam Legacy Scholars
Nina Mason grew up in rural Indiana with a very modest home life, but with unbridled intellectual curiosity and imagination. She later used her parents’ example of faith and hard work as inspiration to pursue higher education and a career – excelling as a journalist and businesswoman. With her husband, Eugene C. Pulliam, the two built a thriving empire in the newspaper industry; however, she never forgot the importance of giving back to others. This was evident in the generosity she bestowed upon newspaper staff, their families, her friends, and associates in need.
During her lifetime, it was not uncommon for her to pay college tuition for relatives and employees, and she was often the most generous donor to key nonprofits in the community. In most instances, her philanthropy was done quietly, as she saw it as an obligation rather than a platform for public recognition. At her death in 1997, she left the vast majority of her $400 million largess to create the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust to continue her commitment to the issues and causes she felt most deeply about. Nina Scholars is the signature program of the Trust.
Although the program operates in four institutions, Arizona State University, Maricopa County Community College District, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and Ivy Tech State College, I gave administrative oversight to the Indiana schools where the overall graduation rate for Nina Scholars is 73 percent. This far exceeds the national average of 32 percent for nontraditional college students at public institutions.
Many of the Nina Scholars from Ivy Tech go on to IUPUI through Passport, a coordinated transfer program, or matriculate at another institution to earn a baccalaureate degree. Evaluation experts have determined that the program is a national model for graduating high-risk populations.
So, what is the secret sauce that makes the Nina Scholars Program such an undeniable success? We learned early on that offering full tuition assistance, a living stipend, and intensive academic and social support were the main ingredients, and doing so up to four years at the community college level and up to six at the university.
Each scholar has access to individualized tutoring, an assigned mentor, a full-time program manager, and a number of on-campus and community resources. They participate in cohort meetings and engage in community service while relying on each other for moral support. Last, the board members and staff of the Trust take special interest in the Scholars—this level of funder/beneficiary interaction is a rarity within the foundation field. I am still able to mentor a few of the Scholars and invest personal time in their success.
Connecting through civil rights history
In fact, the suggestion of Indy students visiting Little Rock first came from the Ivy Tech program manager, Cheri Bush, as a way for me and the students to deal with our mutual separation anxiety! It has grown into something much more…an opportunity for the students to become better acquainted with a piece of American history here that affects us all.
To that end, each Nina Scholar has now read Janis Kearney’s book about Daisy Bates, Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, and will have an opportunity to meet Janis for a private book signing while visiting the museum and home of L. C. and Daisy Bates.
The group will also spend some quality time with a National Park Service ranger at the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and the principal of Central High School. They will also tour a few other historical sites including our own Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail. The trip will culminate at the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis before the students return to Indy.
I recently had a Skype discussion with the group as they prepared for their trip. We discussed some of the interesting parallels between Nina and Daisy. The most obvious one is that these women were risk takers who took leadership in roles historically dominated by males. As a result, they both have legacies that will change the life trajectories of many generations to come.
For all, it will be their first time in Little Rock; some will be making their first trip to the South; and a few will be venturing out of their home state for the first time ever. It is our hope that these students’ lives will be forever enriched by their experience.
With your support, we can continue to empower future leaders and make Arkansas the best state in the country for promoting and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity.
Dr. Michael R. Twyman
Director, UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity