By Alejandro Serrano, city editor
Northeastern University (NU) will admit its last class of University Scholars this fall, terminating the full-tuition scholarship awarded to elite students, according to a June 9 email sent to current scholars.
The University Scholars program was started in 2012. Each student in the program receives a faculty fellow mentor, broad access to university resources as well as the full-tuition scholarship. All NU applicants are considered for the program. However, only the top 1 to 2 percent of the applicant pool are selected, according to the program’s website.
“The new class of students who will join us this fall – nearly 90 people strong, with unparalleled records of accomplishment in leadership, service, and research – will be the final class of University Scholars,” read the June 9 email from program director Dr. Jonna Iacono.
Inaugural class University Scholar and biology and history double major Grace Schulz said she was in awe when she received the email offer to be a Scholar in 2012. Now, she is confused and aggravated at the lack of details surrounding the decision.
“I couldn’t believe what they were offering, not only the scholarship but a community they felt will be something,” she said. “It’s disrespectful that it was via email and over the summer. We weren’t even part of the discussion. It hurts.”
Admitting the final class will impact the program’s resources and staple commitments to diversity, civics and change, said Schulz. In 2013, Schulz launched Playground Project Indigo, a team that works on creating inclusive play spaces to match Boston’s diversity, according to its website.
“Playground consultations bring great change to a city,” she said. “The program ending can end Playground Project Indigo […] I don’t think it was me [succeeding], it was the program believing in me and saying, ‘Okay, what do you need?’ And I don’t know why they would end that.”
The incoming class of Scholars will not mark the end of the program, but rather the expansion of honors education at the university, according to Northeastern spokesperson Matt McDonald. The university will take time to reimagine its honors-caliber education. McDonald did not specify a time frame or further details at press time.
“Northeastern’s standing in higher education has never been stronger,” he said in an email to The News. “Our commitment to the current University Scholars will not change, and the next phase of honors education at Northeastern will enable us to provide transformational experiences to an even larger number of high-achieving honors students at the university.”
However, US News and World Report’s renowned list of college rankings may belie McDonald’s assurances. Northeastern’s standing in the list dropped for the first time since 2007 this year from No. 42 in 2015 to No. 47, according to a Sept. 9, 2015 Boston Globe report.
Vice Provost Bruce Ronkin reassured Scholars that a program is not ending, but rather an enhanced program is being created in a June 10 follow-up email.
“The changes we are making will ensure that the same transformational experiences you have had will be experienced by a larger number of our excellent students,” it read.
Inaugural class University Scholar and senior chemical engineering major Rachel Shapiro was astonished to find out about the program’s end.
“Finding out, I was full of shock and outrage. I’m confused as to why this is happening,” she said. “It won’t impact my studies because I am graduating, but the program was pitched as an elite group of students, and ending those cohorts will impact the legacy we thought we would have.”
The difference between the honors students and the scholars is not the caliber of the students, but rather a tight-knit community feeling that harbored confidence and desire to succeed, said Schulz.
“I remember asking myself, ‘Why am I here? These people are changing the world,’ when I got offered the scholarship,” she said. “And then the university told me they believed in me and supported me in whatever I wanted to pursue.”
In the June 9 email, Dr. Iacono commended students for their accomplishments and assured them that their experience will not change.
“As I noted in our spring meeting, by every conceivable measure, you and the Scholars Program have exceeded the expectations the university had when it invited you to join its ranks,” the email read.
Program faculty fellow William Fowler said he believed the program was going to enable the university to build longstanding relationships that can benefit future students.
“I thought that this program offered us the opportunity to bring in extraordinary students, as we are doing increasingly across the board at Northeastern,” he said. “But by bringing in students like the Scholars, I thought we were going to build long-term relationships… you have to have a long-term perspective, and that’s what I saw the Scholars program as and that’s what disappoints me [that the final class is coming in this fall].”
Fowler said he appreciates what the program did do in its first five years.
“It introduced me to wonderful people, both students and colleagues,” he said. “I’ve been here for a while, and it’s one of the high points of my career. One of the great joys was that it allowed me to see students outside the classroom, a different relationship that was extraordinarily profitable.”
Schulz remembers President Joseph E. Aoun telling the program’s inaugural class at their Welcome Day that they were building a plane as they were flying it with the program.
“It’s hard to believe the program started my year and it will end before I leave,” she said. “I get that the program wasn’t perfect, but don’t crash the plane.”
File photo by news staff