There’s no question about it. If it weren’t for Advantage Iowa (AI), a three-year-old scholarship program aimed at attracting and retaining a diverse student population, Maribel Treto wouldn’t be a Hawkeye.
“Advantage Iowa is why I’m here,” says Treto, a chemical engineering student from Melrose Park, Ill., and an active member of Society for Women Engineers and Sigma Lambda Gamma, a traditionally Latina sorority. “Out-of-state tuition is expensive, and, yeah, I could have taken out a bunch of loans and gone in debt, but that would have put a lot of stress on me. With this scholarship I can focus on school and not have to worry about where I’m going to get money for books or tuition.”
The Advantage Iowa award is a merit-based scholarship for first-year students whose enrollment will contribute to a diverse learning environment. Eligibility criteria may include one or more of the following: race/ethnic background, socioeconomic factors, whether the student is a first-generation college student, and participation in a federally funded Upward Bound program. Awards range from $2,000 to full tuition, and may be renewed for up to 8 semesters as long as the student is enrolled full-time and maintains a cumulative 2.50 grade-point average.
Especially during a time of rising tuition rates, a monetary award is a big draw, says Nancy Humbles, director of the Center for Diversity & Enrichment (CDE).
“Convincing students to come to Iowa is a challenge. With rising costs, scholarships are essential to bringing diversity to our campus. We, like others, are looking for the best and brightest students,” she says.
A diverse student population enriches the college experience for everyone on campus, adds Marcella David, special assistant to the president for equal opportunity and diversity, and associate provost for diversity.
“Having different points of view enhances scholarship,” she says. “That’s true whether you’re interpreting a historical document, or analyzing art, or learning how to put together a marketing plan, or designing a research study. Without diversity in the classroom, you’re missing half the lesson.”
But attracting students to campus is only one element of the program. AI scholars are also required to enroll in either The College Transition or a first-year seminar; meet regularly with a multicultural coordinator at the Center for Diversity & Enrichment; and attend academic and social programs sponsored by the CDE.
That ongoing support is key in keeping students on campus, and has helped raise retention numbers, says David. It’s also one of the things that sets AI apart from past scholarship programs aimed at increasing diversity on campus.
“Research shows that having more engagement with students makes them more successful,” she says. “This is a very proactive program, and it’s something that could serve as a model for student success campuswide.”
Orriena Snyder, a biology and pre-med student from Mesquite, Nev., who’s active in the Women in Science and Engineering program, the CDE ambassador program, and the American Indian Student Association, echoes that sentiment.
“The main difference between a student who succeeds and a student who doesn’t is whether they get involved on campus,” says Snyder, an Advantage Iowa recipient. “I do a lot of activities through the CDE, and it’s been a great way to make new friends.”
Advantage Iowa is awarded to students before they arrive on campus, but the programs and services offered by the CDE are open to everyone, and David and Humbles encourage faculty and staff to reach out to students who may need an extra nudge to get involved with those programs.
“One misconception is that we work only with students who have academic issues and students of color," Humbles says. "That is not true. We serve all students.”
Students are sometimes too intimidated or uncomfortable to ask for help, David adds, but if a student mentions in conversation that they are having trouble meeting people or finding things to do on campus, that offers a good opening for faculty or staff to mention the CDE.
“We have these programs on campus because we want to help students,” she says, “and we want to make sure that folks are aware of these programs so that even more students can get connected.”
by Anne Kapler