Scholarships waiting for group of Marietta students to earn them

Halle Montgomery dreams of going to the Juilliard School. Rico Sexton would like to be a prosecutor. Amber Mathis is considering a career as a chiropractor.

The Marietta High School freshmen are in a group of 22 students who have been offered a four-year, $20,000 scholarship to Life University. They will need to graduate with at least a 2.5 grade-point average to qualify.

Brian McAulay, Life University's executive vice president and provost, and Stuart Fleming started the scholarship program in August. Fleming, a member of the Marietta Board of Education, invited the 60 incoming Marietta High freshmen in his district to a Smart Moves program at Life. The 22 students who showed up were offered scholarships.

Fleming said he represents one of the lower-income wards in the city. Eight high school freshmen in his district live in a housing project, and seven of those are in the scholarship program. He said the city's high school has a good graduation rate, 80.5 percent last year, but he want to focus on those who don’t graduate.

“I wanted to put the carrot out there,” Fleming said. “These students have dreams and goals. We just need to help them get there.”

Half of this year’s scholars group got together at Life on Thursday for hot chocolate and pizza and a talk aimed at keeping them focused on their future after high school. They also took in a basketball game.

The students meet quarterly at the college and also talk with Life students who act as mentors. At Thursday's meeting, Jacquelyn Salazar, an undergraduate student, and Nicole McCarty, a former high school teacher who is studying to be a chiropractor, sat down with some of the students.

“I encouraged them to keep going and to realize that what they do now will have an impact on their future,” McCarty said. “Stick with it and stay focused and you will do well.”

Salazar told the ninth-graders that extracurricular activities are a good way to stay out of trouble, but academics should come first.

Montgomery appreciates the advice from the Life students and says the program has made her more confident about her future. She plays the violin and would like to study music. Her goal is to work with children.

Sexton said the program helps him realize he needs to study more and pull up his grades to get into college.

“I need to be dedicated to do better,” Sexton said. “Coming here helps me learn to stay disciplined.”

McAulay said Life plans to make the scholarship offer to next year’s freshmen in Fleming’s district, and he plans to get this year’s scholars to work with the following group. He would like to see the scholarship idea spread to other colleges and technical schools.

“If these students decide to go somewhere else after high school, I will be pleased that the program reinforced the idea that college was possible," McAulay said.

Liz Cole, director of the Marietta Housing Authority’s mentoring program for 12- to 18-year-olds, also works with the young scholars program. She said ninth grade can be a tough year for students and some students don't get the encouragement they need.

“We don’t want them to be satisfied with where they are,” Cole said. “When we talk about college, it’s a new ballgame to many of them. We can show them it’s attainable and they can be anything they want to be.”