Lexi Smith, a Cutler Scholar

Lexi Smith, left, learns from an instructor how to tie the required knot for pitching a tent.

Photo courtesy of: Lexi Smith

Carlee Dempsey, a Cutler Scholar

Carlee Dempsey and her team, rafting on the Yampa River.

Photo courtesy of: Carlee Dempsey

Lydia King, a Cutler Scholar

Lydia King during her experience working for Hands for Hunger with a coworker.

Photo courtesy of: Lydia King

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Going beyond boundaries prepares Cutler Scholars students for life


From Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado and to the Bahamas, Ohio University students are given the chance to travel, learn and impact the world through the Cutler Scholars Program.  

By the vision of alumnus Wilfred Konneker, OHIO’s 18th President Charles Ping and former Vice President of Advancement Jack Ellis, the Manasseh Cutler Scholars Program began in 1996 as a prestigious and privately endowed scholarship for Ohio University students. Today, it has 55 outstanding students, some of who might never have attended college if not for the help from donors.

Lydia King of Newark, Ohio, a sophomore studying nutrition, is one of many scholars who were given the opportunity to attend college through another’s generosity. 

“I didn’t think I was going to be able to afford to go to college … Cutler Scholars made that possible, 100 percent,” King said. 

The two scholarships made possible by alumni and friends are either geographic or discipline-based. For geographic scholarships, donors have the freedom to specify a geographic area or high school, which then allows qualified seniors to apply for the scholarship. For discipline-based scholarships, donors can choose an academic program to select their qualified students from, like Russ Legacy Cutler Scholar Award, which is designated to OHIO’s college of engineering.

Margaux Cowden, director of the program, said investing in Cutler Scholars is also an investment in the future.

“In supporting the Cutler Scholars program, what you're investing in are the future community leaders who are going to shape our world. You're investing in the change-makers, the ones who will help to set policy or innovate the next great solution,” Cowden said.

Executive Director of Development Ellen Fultz agreed. She said giving back to the University is a way for alumni to feel good about the future by encouraging these students to become scholars.

“It’s the difference between a good education and a great education … the Cutler Scholars program would not be the robust program it is today — and one of our top merit programs — if it wasn’t for the support of these individuals,” Fultz said. 

Cutler Scholars is also more than just a scholarship. It is an enrichment program that provides students with the opportunity to learn outside the classroom through hands on experience.

 “You’re not just paying for someone’s education, you’re going beyond that and helping them experience things and make an impact beyond their four years,” King said.  

The Cutler Scholars experience is comprised of four parts: outdoor leadership, service experience, internships and an international experience.

Outdoor leadership is made possible through the partnership with Outward Bound, an international outdoor education organization. Cutler Scholars students are encouraged to embark on adventures such as white-water rafting, kayaking or backpacking to learn more about leadership and teamwork.

Lexi Smith, an incoming freshman studying forensic chemistry, completed her outdoor leadership training in June by participating in Outward Bound’s Southwest Rafting program on the Yampa River in Colorado.

“This is nothing like a week just casually rafting. This tests who you are in every aspect and I feel like it’s very beneficial for every young person, especially getting ready to undergo a transition like going into college,” Smith said.

Smith and her team were required to pass a swim test while underneath their raft to simulate what would happen if it tipped over. Though she knew the test was coming, Smith panicked while stuck underwater and had to learn to stay calm and adapt to survive. She said she now knows how to react in stressful situations.

Students often return from these trips with a new sense confidence before heading to college.  

“The big takeaways we see in students are their sense of self-efficacy and the ability for them to think ‘yes, I can do anything,’” Associate Director Kristine Daugherty said.

In the summer before sophomore year, students are then expected to participate in a six-week, full-time service experience with an organization that matches the student’s interests.

As a nutrition student, King traveled to Nassau, the Bahamian capital, to work with a nonprofit food rescue program called Hands for Hunger. King often participated in teaching local students about food and nutrition, as well as helping with rescue trucks that drove around to collect extra food from hotels and grocery stores to distribute to impoverished areas. 

“It was really eye opening … to see that a lot of people don’t have the opportunities or things that I have,” King said.

The Cutler Scholars experience also allows students to increase awareness of international issues and hone skills such as self reflection and work ethic.

“The fact that 100 percent of our students will go abroad or that our students did over 3,000 hours of service around the country last summer … I think it's really exciting that we have this kind of program and that Ohio University is invested in creating these opportunities,” Cowden said.