Merten Scholars to be selected from ‘exceptional Virginians’

(Jake McLernon)

L-R: Wife Sally and President Alan Merten

Outstanding Virginian applicants will be eligible for the recently-announced annual four-year, full-ride scholarship named in honor of President Alan Merten and his wife Sally, according to the associate vice president of campaign programs.

"Merten Scholars," who will receive what will become the top university scholarship, will come to Mason as participants in the University Scholars program, the university’s merit-based undergraduate program made up of about 100 students—25 per class.

The Merten Scholars scholarship program is one of the primary initiatives of the Merten Campaign, a fundraising effort which seeks to raise a total of $5 million for the university in honor of the Mertens’ legacy at the university.

Recipients of the scholarship will be selected from “exceptional Virginians,” said Anthony Hoefer, director of the university scholars program.

According to Laura Gleason, associate vice president of campaign programs, the full-ride scholarship will include tuition, room and board, as well as books and potential travel expenses. Eligibility for the award is limited to undergraduate students.

“The status of being a Merten Scholar is intended to be the highest honor a student can receive,” said Gleason.

Specific selection criteria for the new scholarship has yet to be decided but, according to Gleason, students will likely be selected along the same lines as the rest of the University Scholars program, with the Merten Scholar chosen as the “top University Scholar” from Virginia.

University Scholars are chosen from among “students who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in academics, service, leadership and community,” according to the Honors College website.

According to Hoefer, the University Scholars original iteration—called the Mason Scholars—went to Virginians as well, with 10 to 12 scholarships going to one student representing each of the Commonwealth’s congressional districts. The first version of the program began in 1987 and continued through the late 90s, covering the full cost of attendance each year (tuition, books and room and board).

In the early 90s, a companion program called the Presidential Scholars program provided partial scholarships to out-of-state students. The programs formally merged in the late ‘90s, and the connection to Congressional districts was discontinued. Hoefer said during the period of the merge, the scholarship value became a fixed figure, covering tuition costs for both in-state and out-of-state students.

Currently, both in-state and out-of-state University Scholars receive a scholarship that covers tuition only.

The Merten Scholars will receive a full-ride scholarship including tuition, room and board, as well as books and potential travel expenses. Gleason said the full value of the scholarship is estimated to be about $40,000 per year.

Gleason said the Merten Scholars program is being modeled after the Jefferson Scholars program at the University of Virginia.

The presence of competitive, full-ride scholarships at other universities in the Commonwealth of Virginia was a motivating factor in the decision to create a comparable scholarship program at Mason, Gleason said.

“We’re one of the few that doesn’t have a full-ride scholarship program,” said Gleason.

According to Gleason, increasing scholarship support for students is “one of the university’s most pressing needs.”

“We want to be able to recruit top students,” said Gleason. “We lose students because we haven’t been able to offer a full-ride.”

Out of the $5 million goal for the Merten Campaign--$4 million of funds raised will be used to support university priorities and $1 million will be raised to fund the Merten Scholars program.

The interest created by investing the $1 million endowment will be used to support the Merten Scholars.

“As the endowment grows, so will our ability to add more scholarships,” said Gleason.

While the number of initial Merten Scholars hasn’t been officially decided on, the program is expected to begin with one Merten Scholar, according to Gleason. Given the time it takes for interest on the $1 million endowment to accrue, the first scholar would likely begin at Mason in about three years, likely fall 2015.

C2M Executive Editor Kevin Loker contributed to this story

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