TACOMA, Wash. – If there was anyone happier than Joelle French and Thavy Thach when they learned they would be attending University of Puget Sound this fall, it just may have been their parents.
Neither of the 18-year-olds from Tacoma had expected to attend the national liberal arts college in their own backyard, and it would not have happened, but for new financial aid programs that Puget Sound is offering.
“I was really, really happy when I got it,” French said. “My mom cried a little.”
Both of the teenagers are the first in their immediate family to attend college—and they are just two of 17 graduates of Tacoma Public Schools who will attend Puget Sound this fall with help from the Tacoma Public School (TPS) Commitment or the Access Programs Initiative. Both of the new programs, which were announced over the past 18 months, are this fall enrolling their first formal pool of students who are receiving the grants.
Collectively the 17 first-year students will benefit over their four years of study from nearly $3 million in Puget Sound financial resources that will go toward their tuition, room, board, and other expenses.
“The students who are enrolling are outstanding academically and personally,” said Jenny Rickard, Puget Sound vice president for enrollment. “And we’re thrilled to have students from each of the seven eligible district high schools.
“It’s great to think that we announced the TPS Commitment just this year, and we have basically doubled the number of applications and doubled the enrollment of graduates of Tacoma Public Schools. As more people hear about this, and as students begin imagining themselves here early in their high school career, we expect to see the number of applications grow.”
For the fall 2015 academic year, Puget Sound received more than 100 applications from students from Tacoma Public Schools. Of the 17 admitted students who chose Puget Sound over other schools, about half are students of color and half are the first in their family to attend a four-year college.
The TPS Commitment, offered to incoming and current students beginning this fall, is a financial package for eligible local public school students that covers their full demonstrated financial need, as determined by federal guidelines on family income, using a combination of grants, loans, and work-study.
The Access Programs Initiative was launched at the White House by President Ronald R. Thomas in January 2014, in conjunction with President Obama’s invitation to college presidents to attend a national summit. The new financial aid package, covering an eligible family’s full financial need, is offered to graduates of Puget Sound’s Access Programs for middle and high school students, and attracted its first Puget Sound students in fall 2014. This fall a new cohort program will launch, allowing each entering class of Access alumni to go through college as part of a small cohort that provides ongoing support and opportunities for success. Puget Sound’s Access Programs, which have provided mentoring, tutoring, and free math and science classes to more than 1,000 middle and high school students in the region since 1995, is part of the college’s commitment to improving access to higher education and preparing future generations of college students for success.
For Joelle French, it was a Tacoma Lincoln High School counselor who first told her about the Tacoma Public Schools Commitment. French said that her father, a stay-at-home dad and former mechanic, and her stepmother, an airline safety supervisor, were ready to borrow and pay whatever it took to get their second-oldest child into a good college.
"It was so important for both my mom and my dad,” French said. “My mom always wanted to go back to school, so she wanted me to go. My dad always made me want to do better, because he didn't graduate himself, and so I wanted to make him proud. He truly is the reason why I am who I am today."
French was attracted to Puget Sound, but she was concerned it might create a financial burden for her parents, so she began looking elsewhere. However her school counselor, impressed by her leadership roles, urged her to apply to Puget Sound. French has served as president of Lincoln’s student body, as a student representative on the school board, as an assistant wrestling coach at Stewart Middle School, and as the lead person for her school’s unified soccer program for special education students.
French soon learned that the TPS Commitment would meet her family’s full demonstrated financial need. In the end, the family’s income meant French will make some contribution toward college costs, but, as for all students in the program, her federal loans will be limited to $5,500 a year and her work-study package to $3,000 a year. The rest will be covered by Puget Sound.
French is entering her first year expecting a “wonderful experience” and considering a future career in law or as a child psychologist.
Thavy Thach, the youngest of four siblings, is a self-taught computer enthusiast who graduated from Henry Foss High School as an International Baccalaureate Diploma candidate. He has been local chapter president of the Future Business Leaders of America; an editor for Key Club International, a service program for high school students; and he received the Rob Lang Striving for Excellence award.
As his family was not able to help him cover the cost of college, Thach initially decided to join the U.S. Marines and use the GI Bill to pay for his studies. However last summer he attended Puget Sound’s Summer Academic Challenge, a free science and math program for middle and high school students that is part of the college’s Access Programs. The programs’ coordinator, Joseph Colon ’10, impressed by Thach’s ambitious attitude, told him about the new Access Programs Initiative.
Thach discovered that, due to his family’s low income, he would not need to contribute toward his college costs over the four years, beyond the limited loan and work study expectations of the Access Programs Initiative.
As Thach was considering his options, he got a call from David Chiu, assistant professor in mathematics and computer science at Puget Sound. That conversation sealed his decision.
“It was very awesome to have him tell me about the job prospects and what would go on over the next four years [at Puget Sound],” said Thach. “Meeting with a professor in my field of interest has been inspiring, and one thing I can look forward to is meeting the rest of the faculty this fall. I think they are magnificent!”
Thach, who enjoys nothing better than a challenge, sees himself going on to a career in technology research or in engineering, possibly in the field of virtual reality.
The TPS Commitment and Access Programs Scholarship are just two of the initiatives that Puget Sound has introduced in recent years to broaden access to college. This year the college also announced that as part of its holistic admission process it would make SAT and ACT test scores optional for admission, allowing students instead to respond to two short essay questions. Puget Sound also became the first Pacific Northwest partner of the Posse Foundation, a national nonprofit that aims to help place talented students, who may be overlooked by traditional selection processes, in top-tier colleges and universities.
Press photos of middle- and high-school students in Puget Sound’s Access Programs are available upon request.
Photos on page: Top right: Access Programs students in the 2015 Summer Academic Challenge on campus: Above left: Summer Academic Challenge students visit Puget Sound's Slater Museum of Natural History. (Photos by Ross Mulhausen); Below that: Joelle French and Thavy Thach.
To learn more about the TPS Commitment and Access Programs Scholarship visit: pugetsound.edu/admission/tuition-aid-scholarships/for-tacoma-public-school-students
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