USM Regents Scholarships Relieve Financial Burdens and Create Opportunities for Top Students

Each year, as part of its efforts to attract and retain talented undergraduate students at the University System of Maryland (USM), the USM Board of Regents (BOR) recognizes outstanding high school and community college students by awarding them scholarships to further their education at USM institutions. Selected on the basis of their past academic achievements, motivation, character, extracurricular activities, and personal recommendations, the scholarship winners receive funds to subsidize, and in some cases fully cover, the cost of tuition, books, room and board, and other academic-related materials.

As Elizabeth Murray, Director of Scholarships and Academic Services at USM, explains, "The Regents Scholars Program enables students to focus on academics rather than finances." At the same time, she says, it gives students who might not otherwise be able to pursue an undergraduate education a unique opportunity to do so.

In 2014, eleven students were awarded USM scholarships. Samuel Damesa was among them. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Damesa came to the United States in 2010 to pursue higher education. Initially, he enrolled in Montgomery College, where he took classes in international studies. "It was a great first step toward my longer-term goal of earning a doctorate and returning to the third world to help people in need," Damesa says.

The challenge for Damesa, like many other BOR scholarship winners, was to find a way to pay for additional education. "The cost [of college] seemed like an almost insurmountable obstacle to overcome," he says.

Damesa's financial worries were allayed when he found out that he had been awarded a BOR scholarship and could afford to attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "It was a god-send opportunity," he says. "Getting that award meant that I could pursue what I wanted to pursue, and that I wouldn't have to incur huge debt to pursue it."

For Tiffany Biles, who graduated from Wor-Wic Community College in May 2014 and enrolled in Towson University to pursue a bachelor's degree in music education, winning a BOR scholarship also meant freedom from financial pressures. "I was prepared to take on a good chunk of debt to pay for my bachelor's degree, but when I found out that I had won the BOR scholarship, I nearly fell on the floor," she says. "It meant that I didn't have to think about how much every class would cost me; I could just concentrate on learning to become the best music teacher I can be."

Allen Benton III was similarly grateful for the financial freedom and educational opportunity afforded by winning a BOR scholarship. A self-described "high school drop-out," Benton spent several years of working at low-skill jobs at manufacturing plants and restaurants before deciding to further his education. As he explains, "It became clear to me that if I was going to do something meaningful, I had to get a college degree."

Benton enrolled at Allegany College of Maryland, intending to earn a certificate in engineering and get a job in that field. Instead, he wound up pursuing an associate's degree in engineering and yearning to know more. He then applied to and was accepted at Frostburg State University, but was uncertain whether he would be able to afford to go. "It was a tough time," he recalls. "Even though I was 'in,' I knew that if I didn't have enough money, getting my bachelor's degree was still out of reach."

Winning a BOR scholarship dramatically changed Benton's outlook on his educational future. As he notes, by alleviating the financial burden of going to college, "it [the scholarship] gave me hope that I could actually get my undergraduate degree."

In its 30-plus-year history, the Regents Scholars Program has inspired hope in and facilitated the success of many students like Damesa, Biles, and Benton. It has awarded more than $9.3 million, assisting more than 200 students in pursuing a USM undergraduate education. In doing so, it has created what Murray calls "a real win-win situation" for USM and students alike. As she explains, "the Regents Scholars Program positions USM to attract top-notch students, and it creates a pathway for those students to attain an affordable college education through one of the top higher educational systems in the nation."

Learn more about the Regents Scholars Program and the 2014 scholarship winners.