Ripon Christian High School Valedictorian Courtney Jespersen, 17, had her life figured out — as much as any new high school graduate.
She would graduate from high school this week and move on to California State University, Stanislaus in the fall. There, she would study Communications, carrying on the dream Jespersen had fostered since she was just a little girl making fake news broadcasts in her bedroom.
But those plans were jeopardized last month when Jespersen received a letter stating that CSU Stanislaus would not offer any new President’s or Provost’s scholarships this year — four-year scholarships for top students like Jespersen — due to economic difficulties.
Jespersen had been counting on applying for the President’s scholarship to make college more affordable. With a 4.44 GPA, she was nearly a shoo-in for the scholarship, based on GPA and test scores.
When Mark Grobner, a CSU Stanislaus professor of Biology for the past 13 years, heard about the suspension of the scholarships — and the effect the move might have on Jespersen — he had just one word: “Outrage.”
“I was shocked to hear that there were no (new President’s and Provost’s) scholarships available,” Grobner said. “A student like this is exactly the type of student we want at CSU Stanislaus.”
Despite being admittedly out of his element, Grobner decided to step into the fundraising field to lobby his fellow faculty members in hopes of raising money for Jespersen. He asked for a $50 donation from each professor — a sizable donation, he notes, as all instructors took a 10 percent pay cut this year due to the down budget.
More than a third of the faculty responded to his call and, with matching funding from the faculty union, the California Faculty Association, $5,000 was raised to cover Jespersen’s tuition and fees for one year.
“He was worked up about this and he wanted to do something about it,” said John Sarraillé, professor of Computer Science and president of the Stanislaus California Faculty Association Chapter. “… As faculty members, we are excited to provide support for this promising student.”
Sarraillé said the $5,000 gift was just a part of faculty doing its job to preserve, protect, and defend the educational mission of the university.
For Jespersen, the faculty gift came as “a blessing.”
“It’s amazing, I’m speechless,” Jespersen said Wednesday as she was presented with the check. “This is the most generous thing that has ever happened to me.”
Grobner said he hopes to make the faculty scholarship a yearly gift to a deserving student, but noted the fund is still in the planning stages. He has yet to set up a non-profit to administer the scholarship, though he hopes members of the community may help out through donations or guidance.
CSU Stanislaus says it hopes to bring back the President’s and Provost’s scholarships next year, but down investments and reduced donations forced a one-year stay on new scholarships. The 79 CSU Stanislaus students who currently receive the President’s and Provost’s scholarships will continue in the program, despite no new scholarships being handed out.
“We definitely want to award the top students these scholarships,” said CSU Stanislaus Vice President of Business and Finance Russ Giambelluca. “That’s why they were created in the first place. We will do everything in our power to raise the funding and see better performance in our funds to get the scholarships back.”
Giambelluca also noted that more than two-thirds of the campus currently receives some form of financial assistance, and that the university has already awarded 450 scholarships this year of varying value. Six University Scholars awards were sent out just last week, Giambelluca said, offering $3,000 per year for two years.
“We try to help as many students as we can,” Giambelluca said. “We’d love to help everyone.”
The one-year discontinuance of President’s and Provost’s scholarships also has nothing to do with former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s upcoming appearance at the University’s 50th Anniversary Gala, said both Giambelluca and CSU Stanislaus Foundation President Matt Swanson, despite some faculty claims to the contrary.
Swanson said the Palin event was funded entirely by new donors, without tapping into existing foundation resources. He expects the event to raise approximately $200,000, “which will immediately fund additional course offerings, university programs and more student scholarships.”
Even though the gap in President’s and Provost’s scholarships may only last for one year thanks to these fundraising efforts, the faculty’s donation was just what Jespersen needed to ensure she will be able to attend CSU Stanislaus. Now, her only worry is living up to the potential her future professors saw.
“I just hope I’ve made a good impression,” Jespersen said.
According to Nancy Burrows, chair of the Department of Communication Studies that Jespersen will call home, Jespersen doesn’t need to worry if she keeps up the hard work.
“We expect a lot from all of our students, but she expects a lot from herself,” Burrows said.
For more information on the faculty scholarship, e-mail Grobner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail email@example.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.