Lola Aiken Scholars Program Delivers High Yields
Release Date: 10-02-2002
Three years ago, when University of Vermont School of Natural Resources Dean Donald DeHayes floated the idea of an honors recognition program for outstanding first-year students, some colleagues were skeptical.
“But you’re not giving them any money,” pointed out David Hirth, associate professor of wildlife and fisheries.
DeHayes had a hunch that the brightest students were looking for something more important than money.
“There’s good information and data in the literature that students leaving high school — particularly the most highly motivated academically — are really hungry to get engaged in the field in which they hope to study in college,” Hayes explains. “This is driven, by their growing disinterest with high school, where they have a very generalized education. They’re really chomping at the bit to get engaged on the subject they want to study.
“We have a lot of wonderful enrichments in our programs — internships, field labs, independent research opportunities — for all our students,” says DeHayes, “but most of these begin in the junior and senior years.” Rather than give these active learners two more years of general requirements in the beginning of their college education, DeHayes longed to “take students that were uniquely able and highly motivated, and give them an engaging opportunity from the get-go.”
The plan was that the top-rated SNR applicants (based on their high school records) would be offered the honor, given preferential registration, enroll in the first-year honors seminar and — if their grades warranted it, be eligible for future SNR honors courses.
The program was christened the “Lola Aiken Scholars” after one of the School’s most active benefactors who was also the wife of the late George D. Aiken, former Vermont governor, Speaker of the House of Representatives, United States Senator and longtime friend of UVM.
“We also wanted to honor Lola Aiken, who is absolutely a wonderful friend of our school, a passionate believer in young people and she and her husband are associated with our school through the Aiken Center,” says DeHayes.
Twenty first-year students were admitted to the Lola Aiken Scholars program during the 1999-2000 academic year.
Three years later, 29 first-year students are eligible from this year's class. But even more impressive, "one of the things we're most pleased with is that the Lola Aiken Scholar Program has doubled the yield of strong students entering UVM's School of Natural Resources and the retention rates of these students is high," says Hirth, who not only is no longer skeptical, he teaches the Lola Aiken Honors Seminar one-credit course NR99.
“Yield” means the percentage of students admitted to the university who actually enroll.
“Considering that these are the strongest students with the most other choices, that’s pretty good,” says Hirth.
The program is making a difference both to the university and to students.
“I knew about it when I applied, and I was pretty sure I could get in,” says Luke Krisch, from Long Island, N.Y. “I was looking at the University of Wisconsin, Northeastern and Boston University,” he says, “but this definitely influenced my choice, that I was offered the honors program here.”
“UVM became my first choice school after I learned about how prestigious the environmental program is here," says Michele Palmer, from Plymouth, Mass. “When I was invited to be in the Aiken Scholar program, I was further convinced that I should attend UVM because I knew that such a program meant I would have additional opportunities for personal attention and scholarship within SNR.”
Palmer’s initial impression was right. Now a junior in the program, she says, “the first-year seminar provided an outlet to learn about environmental issues and to discuss them at length. It was also a great opportunity to meet other first-years and faculty and to explore beyond the campus. Last year I was able to take the seminar on global climate change, which I felt was valuable.”
Likewise, Andover, Mass. native Kevin Jordan wanted “to go to a school where I was already accepted as a good student and would be given some special attention,” and says the seminar was a chance “to meet other students in my year who were studying the same thing I was and were as serious a student as I was.” Jordan, a junior has gone on to work collecting data for Professor Robert Manning’s research.
“We have three classes of Aiken Scholars on campus now,” says DeHayes. “These students are really showing some wonderful leadership in the school and beyond.”
2003 Lola Aiken Scholars
Jamie Ebert LM