Favorite Child: Dell Scholars, beacons of hope

Sometimes we foundation folks get asked to name our favorite grantee. That’s an uncomfortable question – a little like being asked to name your favorite child. Each grantee, program, or project has been carefully and diligently selected because of the remarkable results they deliver. So it’s impossible to say that YES Prep in Houston, Texas is more a favorite than LEAP Maths & Science Academy in South Africa.

But this time of year, I do have a favorite.  It’s the Dell Scholars Program. The program was created out of Michael and Susan’s desire to deeply impact students’ lives through a college persistence and completion program. It’s a direct commitment to support low-income, high-potential kids who have proven to be resilient and persistent in the face of significant struggles, and who are clearly capable of achieving their college dreams.

Dell Scholars defy the odds – 85 percent of Dell Scholars graduate from college with a degree within six years, compared with only 19 percent of kids from the same economic background, and with just 59.5 percent of the entire college-enrolled student population. Some have gone on to pursue graduate degrees as well. And even among the Dell Scholars who do not graduate within six years, more than 90 percent continue working toward the goal of a bachelor’s degree.

The Dell Scholars Program helps kids accomplish these successes through innovative and creative approaches that go well beyond handing out checks. Dell Scholars director Oscar Sweeten-Lopez frames the program as an effort to help kids learn how to get through school by planning, by empowering students to get the help they need when they need it, and by looking behind simple stopgap solutions to the root causes of problems that may put their success at college at risk.

For me, though, each Dell Scholar puts a real face on the mission of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The programs and organizations we fund all seek to improve the lives of countless children from circumstances just like those faced by Dell Scholars. But we don’t always know their names or their stories. The Dell Scholars program is different. We know the scholars in a very direct way. We read their applications, we support them throughout their college careers, and we celebrate their accomplishments, including graduation. And each spring, when we announce the latest class of scholars, I am reminded of why we, as a foundation, do what we do.

That makes Dell Scholars my favorite children, especially this time of year.  We believe that each scholar serves as a beacon. In the words of one newly selected scholar, “By becoming a Dell Scholar, I will serve as hope. Hope for students that grow up in the ‘barrio,’ attend the kind of school I did under circumstances similar to the ones that I have grown up with.”

Congratulations Dell Scholars Class of 2012. You represent the hope of our country.

As president of the Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori Fey manages the rapid growth and adoption of the Ed-Fi data standard for states, school districts and vendors across the US. Prior to leading Ed-Fi Alliance, Lori served as portfolio director for policy initiatives at the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and was responsible for the foundation’s policy initiatives focused on institutionalizing performance management in the U.S. public education system.

Read more of Lori’s posts here.

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