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Classified Senate supports student retention through annual scholarships

Despite the tough economic climate, college fees continue to come due, transportation costs must be paid and textbooks are still required for learning, leaving some individuals struggling for their next steps and questioning if they can even afford to be an Ohio University student.

"Being a college student from a very poor background, I have had to take out loans and there are many people who own a lot of my future right now," said Ed Gaither, a master of public administration student at Ohio University.

Ohio University Classified Senate aims to relieve school-related stresses by instilling in students a spirit of optimism and hope. At the start of each academic year, Classified Senate awards five $1,000 scholarships to students in need.

"Students are why Classified Senate is here, they are why Ohio University exists," said Jane Boney, Classified Senate member and administrative associate for the School of Applied Health Sciences and Wellness. "We take care of our students."

The endowed scholarship goes to students who meet one of the five criteria – an employee, regional campus student, academic excellence, nontraditional student and a multicultural student from Appalachia who hails from one of six counties surrounding Athens – and recipients are chosen by the Ohio University Office of Student Financial Aid.

"A scholarship defers how much someone owns my future," said Gaither. "I appreciate what Classified Senate does, especially because their specific nontraditional scholarship gives the student a notion that there is someone who cares about your education as a nontraditional student and they are willing to pony up to see you do well."

Classified Senate has been championing its objective to aid students since 1993, and their efforts first came to fruition in October 1996 when the initial recipients of the Classified Senate scholarships were recognized.

The group began discussing options on how they could contribute to the University community during a Classified Staff Advisory Council retreat in 1993.

"Senate was looking for a way to give to the University," said Patricia Palmer, Classified Senate treasurer-elect and historian and administrative associate for the Office of Multicultural Programs. "Classified Senate works with students, we care about the students – that's why we are here, so a scholarship fit."

The group opted to endow one scholarship that would assist students in advancing their educations as well as assure them that the University was rooting for them.

"It's common sense: It's helping somebody, retention, giving someone the resources to go to school that maybe they never would have the opportunity to go," said Boney.

To fund the endowment, Classified Senate developed a route that would satisfy its expenses and the community's interests: a merchandise sale. The fundraising mechanism began with the sale of a historic coverlet, which featured celebrated campus buildings and artists' renderings of the five regional campuses, the Marching 110 and the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

After much success, the idea evolved into a sales campaign that quickly netted more than $60,000 and endowed not one, but four annual $1,000 scholarships.

In 2000, a fifth scholarship, the Multicultural Scholarship for Appalachian Students, was endowed; it was first awarded in 2005. The last scholarship was added at about the same time President Roderick J. McDavis established the Appalachian Scholars program "to initiate, recruit and retain a diverse community of students," said Misty Hutchison, Classified Senate member and administrative associate at the College of Health Sciences and Professions.

Palmer said that in addition to helping students from Appalachia counties, Classified Senate wanted to increase its reach to students from underrepresented ethnic groups. 

"We wanted to deal with Appalachia, but there is also a second group of students in Appalachia, which is the underrepresented student," added Palmer.

Classified Senate continues to fully fund its scholarships by selling a variety of Ohio University products, such as a full-color coverlet, limited edition pillows, a stuffed Bobcat toy animal, a tote bag and jewelry, along with the historic coverlet that kickstarted the whole venture.

"We are very proud of our scholarships," said Jeff Fulk, chair of Classified Senate and library associate at Alden Library. "We understand that if we sell the merchandise, we are putting more money into the scholarship."

Scholarship awardees are selected each spring. The scholarship is disbursed at the start of the academic year and the Office of Student Financial Aid notifies Classified Senate about the chosen recipients. The students are then invited to attend a Classified Senate meeting, where they are introduced to the body and can share their personal stories of need.

The scholarship experience proves motivational for many recipients, instilling a newfound enthusiasm and an incentive to increase student performance.

"People are willing to scrape dimes and nickels together to help me out, so I owe them the best performance that I can," said Gaither.

The Ohio University Classified Senate was created to provide a formal mechanism for ongoing discussion, information exchange and consultation on matters concerning classified employees at Ohio University.