Chancellor’s Scholarship Program nurtures special connections
By Jeff Wilson
The Chancellor’s Scholarship Program offers a special opportunity to select SIU undergraduates.
The full scholarship, valued at over $102,000, covers in-state tuition, mandatory fees, and room and board charges for four years. Beyond the monetary benefit, the scholarship has great value to students and the university.
“The Chancellor’s Scholarship Program allows students to pursue their passion,” said Dr. LaShonda Stewart, director of the program. “They work with esteemed professors, have the chance to study abroad, and complete 20 hours of community service. They are constantly engaged.”
The program creates a community of support and engagement. The graduation rate for recipients of the scholarship is nearly 100 percent, and most stay connected to the university and one another for years.
“We’re truly teaching the leaders of tomorrow,” Stewart said. “They make the best ambassadors for the university, both as students and later as alumni.”
Even the process of selecting recipients creates a buzz around SIU among prospective students.
“In the past, we’ve hosted about 260 students and their parents for our CSP events,” said Amber Rivers, program coordinator for academic scholarships. “This year, the chancellor went to some local schools and personally informed students about their scholarship. That really built great excitement.”
Currently, the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program works as a tuition voucher program, which means the university simply allows those students to come to SIU and live on campus for free.
Now, the university is offering alumni the opportunity to support and potentially expand the program through donations.
“This is an incredible opportunity,” said SIU Foundation CEO Matt Kupec. “By financially backing the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, our alumni can put their stamp on one of the university’s most prestigious programs.”
The plan, which is in its early stages, wouldn’t change much about the program, but it would give the university a financial boost and add to the impact of these scholarships.
Dozens of students are offered Chancellor’s Scholarships each year, and there are hundreds of alumni around the country. Here are few of their stories:
Mason Higgins, 2018 graduate
Nearing the end of his high school years in Oregon, Wisconsin, Mason Higgins said he was “throwing darts” when it came to choosing a college.
“All I knew is, at that time, I wanted to get away from home, and then I received a letter from SIU,” he said. “I decided to stop by on my way to some other places.”
Having never been to Southern Illinois before, Higgins didn’t know what to expect. At the time, he was interested in theater, so he stopped by the RSO fair.
“I asked a student at the booth whether I could join the program even if I wasn’t a theater student, and he didn’t know,” he said. “I walked from the Rec Center to Starbucks at the Student Center and found that Tom Kidd had followed me all the way there. I walk fast, and he caught me and told me to join.”
Kidd, who recently passed away, was the director of SIU’s theater department, and his persistence impressed Higgins.
“After that, I really fell in love with campus, the greenery, the beauty,” he said. “Everybody at SIU loved SIU. There was a lot of positivity in the air. It really is a small school with big opportunities.”
Receiving the Chancellor’s Scholarship allowed Higgins to pursue many goals and flex his academic muscle. He earned three bachelor’s degrees – music, Spanish, and criminology – and even took 30 credit hours his last semester.
“I was able to learn about who I am,” he said. “The program offers so much mentorship, and you’re being constantly challenged. SIU decided to invest in me, and it paid dividends.”
After graduating, Higgins worked for about a year and half as a police officer in Madison, Wisconsin, until he decided to pursue a law degree from the University of Wisconsin.
“Like SIU, the Madison police officers all love their jobs and their community,” he said. “I just thought I’d be happier as an attorney. I know I want to be a litigator, work as an advocate, and focus on civil rights.”
He gives the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program credit for shaping him and said he believes the program is a perfect choice for those with a philanthropic spirit.
“I had a family in that program. It helps you to be your best person,” Higgins said. “I’m looking forward to the day I have money to give back.”
Britt Peyton, 2021 graduate
Britt Peyton, who is graduating from SIU this spring, clearly remembers the moment she found out she had received the Chancellor’s Scholarship.
“My dad brought it to softball practice, and he said, ‘You got the letter,’” said the Norris City, Illinois, native. “It’s not an opportunity a lot of students get. It was amazing because I didn’t have to do it by myself.”
A third-generation Saluki, Peyton made the most of her experience in Carbondale. She earned her bachelor’s in biological science, worked as a Saluki ambassador, and was a member of the Marching Salukis. Next, she’ll start the BSN program at Barnes-Jewish in St. Louis.
The financial relief provided by the scholarship allowed her focus on furthering her education and gain experience in her field by working as a CNA at a local nursing home and compiling patient contact hours.
“I want to convey how amazing the opportunities are at SIU,” she said. “The Chancellor’s Scholarship helped me make many important connections. The more scholarships the better, and coming from alumni, it would mean that much more.”
Luis Prado, 2019 graduate
It didn’t take long for Luis Prado to see that SIU was the right place for him and receiving the Chancellor’s Scholarship made it that much more special.
“My heart was split about where to go,” he said. “I was invited for a visit and when I got here, I immediately thought, ‘What is this place?’ I was taken by how beautiful campus is.”
Prado had already decided on SIU and was ready to join the Marching Salukis before he first learned about the Chancellor’s Scholarship.
“I started college with 200 friends because of the Marching Salukis,” he said. “I was prepared to work while going to school, and then I learned about the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program.”
When the Westmont, Illinois, native was notified that he’d been selected for the scholarship, he was overjoyed.
“All that extra time I was going to spend doing other things, I was now able to put into organizations and research,” Prado said. “I was able to change my major three times. I feel blessed.”
He decided to focus on geology and is now working on his master’s in environmental sustainability at SIU while working as a teaching assistant. Prado chalks much of his success to the opportunities afforded to him by the scholarship.
“Students can explore their passion outside and inside the classroom,” he said. “You’re part of a community of excellence. There are resources that allow you to flourish.”
Elijah Henson, 2021 graduate
An Albion, Illinois, native Elijah Henson was considering moving away for college until his little sister was born.
“After that, I didn’t want to move too far away,” he said about deciding to come to SIU. “I’ve been really happy with my decision.”
After being accepted, Henson received a Chancellor’s Scholarship. Coming from a family of five the financial support was important.
“It gave me the opportunity to explore,” he said. “My scholarship made college what it was for me.”
Henson was an active member of Alpha Sigma Phi and part of the Saluki Student Investment Fund, which allows business students hands-on experience in portfolio management and investment research.
“(The SSIF) really opened up my eyes,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot more and gotten ahead in my classes.”
After graduating this spring with a bachelor’s in accounting, Henson will begin working as an audit associate at Grant Thornton Public Accounting in St. Louis.
Grace Vargas, 2019 graduate
Growing up in Logan Square in Chicago, Grace Vargas went to a competitive high school. While many of her classmates were exploring Ivy League options, she found everything she was looking for at SIU.
After finding out about the Chancellor’s Scholarship and attending a Scholarship Weekend event on campus, she was convinced.
“I was excited to find a state school with so many options,” she said. “I knew I wanted to grow here and be changed by this place.”
Receiving a full scholarship offered the ability to explore options, and eventually she settled on anthropology as her major. She also studied marketing, Spanish language, political science, and Latino studies.
“The scholarship gave me freedom to pursue things I cared about,” Vargas said. “I found people who were so warm and curious. I am so blessed to have gotten this scholarship.”
While at SIU, she interned for state Rep. Will Guzzardi and helped bring him to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Vargas went on to work as his chief of staff for about a year.
During the pandemic, she’s been working in communications and marketing for state Rep. Delia Ramirez and finding success with remote work options.
“I’m a go-getter and being at SIU was about being that person,” Vargas said. “My experience at SIU was about holistic development.”
By supporting the Chancellor’s Scholarship Program, Vargas said alumni and donors have the chance to make a major difference.
“You can be who you needed when you were younger,” she said. “If you’re blessed enough to help, do whatever you can. It’s not just an education. It’s not about getting the degree and leaving.”