By: Melissa Fraser, Staff Writer
The Promise Scholarship program, a new addition to USM, is designed to bring a four-year college education within reach for Maine’s disadvantaged youth. The goal is to help students overcome “financial, academic, social, and cultural barriers, remain in school, and graduate in four years with little or no debt,” according to the USM website.
The founders of the program, Carolyn and Richard McGoldrick, began their efforts a few years ago by anonymously sponsoring two students, Mohamed Awale and Brianna DiDonato-Duran. Upon their graduation from USM, the McGoldricks revealed themselves as their sponsors.
Inspired by the success of Awale and DiDonato Duran, the McGoldricks knew they wanted to continue to help more students. A goal was set to raise $15 million dollars and the Promise Scholarship program was born.
USM has partnered with Maine’s youth development organizations such as The Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine, the YMCA and Upward Bound, to help identify and refer disadvantaged young people with the potential, desire, and motivation to earn a college degree.
“Our inaugural class of Promise Scholars were identified and referred by 12 of our partner community-based organizations,” explains McGoldrick.
Currently, the program is made up of 19 full-time students, most of whom are the first generation within their family to attend or graduate college.
On Wednesday, September 5 the USM community gathered at the Inaugural Promise Scholar Event. An inspirational presentation was given by Shirl Penney, a native of Eastport Maine, who shared his story of rising from poverty to prosperity.
“These Promise Scholars come from all parts of Maine and they are selected based on their leadership potential, their ability and willingness to give it back to the world,” President Glenn Cummings said at the event.
As the student population continues to rise at USM, up 4.5 percent this year alone, the need for more scholarships and financial aid grows. In October of 2017, USM announced that a fund of $15 million dollars “will support $500,000 in scholarships each year, with average annual awards of $5,000,” this will provide scholarships to 100 or more university students each year.
Eligibility for this award is based on full-time enrollment of 15 credits per semester and a minimum of a 3.00 GPA. Students are also encouraged to be active participants within the USM community through volunteer work and mentorship.
As stated on the USM website, an investment in higher education has a direct and positive impact on the lives of the students and the growth of economy within our state. “For the future of our young people and the future of Maine, the Promise Scholarship is the best investment we can make,” it said.
According to one Promise Scholar, Washima Fairoz, the opportunity is completely life-changing. “I’m so thankful. The Promise Scholarship gave me my life. Hope. I just don’t know where I would be without it,” she says.
Fairoz, an undeclared major and first-year student at USM, is a graduate from Biddeford High School. Originally from Bangladesh, Fairoz says that she is no stranger to the struggles that females face within a patriarchal society. “My only goal was to get an education, if you ask somebody: what’s your dream? Some people might say I want to be a doctor, I want to be an engineer. My dream was to get an education,” Fairoz explains.
Five years ago Fairoz moved with her family to the United States. She taught herself English, as well as three other languages, served as her class president and graduated as valedictorian. She also experienced discrimination that resulted in her resigning as class president and battled with depression.
Now, Fairoz envisions a philanthropic future for herself after graduation. She dreams of working with women of third world countries to bridge the gender gap in education, ensuring that women have equal rights and access to proper schooling.
“If you want to ask me, what does the Promise Scholarship mean to you? It literally means my life,” Fairoz says. “Because if that Promise Scholarship wasn’t there, I don’t know where I would be.”