Scholarship tradition endures
Thanks to alumni volunteers and Zoom, the Case Alumni Foundation selected another class of Junior-Senior Scholars.
When she Zoomed into a meeting of the Case Alumni Association’s scholarship committee in late March, Jessica Palmer ’10, MEM ’11, quickly learned of the challenges of a pandemic school year.
Students interviewing for Junior-Senior Scholarships told of missing friends and roommates, struggling with remote classes, and wishing college could boomerang back to normal.
They also radiated an energy and optimism that reminded her of her classmates from a decade ago—and assured her that Case drive survived.
“I was just like, “Wow, no matter what, these kids are going to be an adaptive crew,’” said Palmer, a manager in the Project Management Office of Philips in Cleveland. “My heart kind of aches for them. But their enthusiasm, it bumps up my energy about Case.”
The selection of Junior-Senior Scholars offers a window on the lives of today’s students, as they spell out dreams and financial challenges to a committee of staff and alumni. Palmer, who was volunteering on the scholarship committee for the first time, also helped to break in a new format.
Because of the pandemic, committee members met online during the last week in March. Applicants joined Zoom calls for 10 minute interviews, one after the other, across four days. By week’s end, the committee had awarded $680,800 in scholarships to 120 rising sophomores and juniors for the 2021-2022 academic year. The grants ranged from $1,700 to $11,000 and averaged $5,714 per student.
For 47 years now, Case Alumni Association Inc. has offered scholarships to stellar and needy students with the aim of helping them finish their degree programs in science, math or engineering. To earn a Junior-Senior Scholarship, students must be recommended by a faculty member or department chair and impress a scholarship committee–traditionally in a face-to-face interview.
This year, the Internet was the communication medium, with applicants facing a Zoom matrix of five or six selectors. The program was coordinated by Janna Greer, the CAF’s Manager of Donor Relations & Grants.
“It was really impressive how smooth it all went,” Palmer said.
Jim Treleaven ’69, MS ’70, PhD ’90, especially liked that the new format allowed out-of-town alumni to volunteer. He joined the scholarship interviews for the first time, Zooming in from his home in suburban Chicago.
“I have a bias, because it allowed me to participate. But I think Zoom worked extremely well,” said Treleaven, president and CEO of the Via Strategy Group. “It’s pretty efficient. It allows more people to participate. Students still get to express whatever they would have expressed in person.”
Sean Higgins, MS ’90, co-founder and CTO of the Herjavec Group, a cybersecurity company based in Toronto, participated in interviews all four days and found them revealing.
“It was a great chance to learn about students and hear directly from them,” he said. “All of the students are struggling with Covid life. The great ones really find a way to make a difference.”
In all, 24 alumni participated in scholarship interviews, far more than normal. Arkady Polinkovsky ’08, MS ’10, chair of the scholarship committee, told the board of the Case Alumni Association that he expects online interviews to be an enduring feature of the process, perhaps alternating with in-person interviews on select days.
Some of the spontaneity of the conference table is lost, he said, but much is gained through greater efficiency and flexibility. Even students studying abroad can Zoom in for their interviews, he noted.
Greater need, more resources
The $680,800 awarded this spring represents a 13 percent increase over last year.
Steve Zinram, executive director of the Case Alumni Association, Inc., said students needed more help this year and the Foundation was able to respond, thanks to a deepening pool of endowed scholarships.
The endowment maintained by the Case Alumni Foundation stood at $80.7 million at the end of March, representing a 22% (or $14.5 million) increase from June 30, 2020.
“As our endowment grows, we have more funds available for scholarships, and we are able to meet more of the needs of our students,” Zinram said.
For many students, the extra help is sorely needed.
Kaitlyn Reyes, a sophomore from Florida majoring in biomedical engineering, is paying for college with her mother, a hospital social worker who saw her hours cut during the pandemic.
“The scholarship has alleviated a lot of stress,” said Reyes, who holds down a part-time job as an office assistant. “It gives my mom some help in our team effort to fund my college years.”
Peculiar Nzegbuna, a sophomore from Chicago, said the scholarship is helping a dream come true. He came to Case to study aerospace engineering.
“It’s been something I really wanted to do for a long time,” he said. “Case Western just had everything I wanted in a college.”
He hopes to pursue a career in commercial aviation or with the nation’s space program, he said. As a Junior-Senior Scholar, he feels he’s on his way.
“It brings me not just a financial gain, but a network,” he said.
For more information on the Junior-Senior Scholarship Program and how you can help support or volunteer as an alumni interviewer, please contact Janna Greer, Manager of Donor Relations and Grants, at email@example.com.
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