It’s in the name: Access Scholarships make ECU accessible. Here’s why that’s important

Jonelle Romero wants to be a dentist.

An Access Scholarship helped her attend East Carolina University, where she excelled in her classes, volunteered locally and shadowed an oral surgeon. The program provides grants to students who demonstrate academic potential and financial need. The $5,000 annual award ($2,500 per semester) covers tuition, fees and books.

ECU profiled Romero two years ago as a junior. After graduating, she continued her path to dentistry and is now a first-year student in the ECU School of Dental Medicine.

Freshman Access Scholarship students visit Washington, D.C., on a fall break trip. (Contributed photo)

Freshman Access Scholarship students visit Washington, D.C., on a fall break trip. (Contributed photo)

“Diligence, hard work and being scholarly pays off when the reward is receiving a scholarship to fulfill your dream,” she said.

Other Access scholars have gone on to graduate and medical school, and one is starting a doctorate in physical therapy this spring. With additional resources, the Access Scholarship program aspires to help an even greater number of students and continue to nurture their academic prowess and future success.

Since the program began 12 years ago, it has provided scholarships to roughly 210 students and awarded around $4.1 million, according to director of university scholarships Melonie Bryan.

“Many of these students might not have the opportunity to attend a four-year university without this scholarship, as their demonstrated need might have made the cost of attending a university out of reach. We are meeting our mission as an affordable, accessible school and helping raise the profile of our region as many of our scholars are from eastern North Carolina,” Bryan said.

ECU is committed to making education accessible for students who have academic potential but not the financial means to attend the university. More than 9,000 undergraduate students at ECU have demonstrated financial need — the highest number of students in the University of North Carolina system.

Many donors and foundations recognize the importance of the Access Scholarship and help fund it with endowments and grants.

The West Memorial Fund, an independent North Carolina foundation, recently gave ECU a $60,000 grant to fund Access Scholarships, enabling three students from Pitt County to attend ECU for four years. The fund has contributed $780,000 to the Access Scholarship program since 2006.

Sean Smith ’92 and his wife, Andrea, have a passion for education and helping students go to college. He said that after graduating, student loans made him reconsider his goal of attending law school because he didn’t want to take on more debt. The Smiths decided to endow an Access Scholarship so future students don’t have to make the same choice.

Kel Normann ’85 is an ECU Foundation Board member, Board of Trustee member and longtime supporter of the Access program. He said the program is one of the best scholarships ECU offers. Normann also supports merit-based scholarships like the EC Scholarship, but found need-based awards can have a big, if not bigger impact.

“It’s wonderful for students to get EC scholars, and it brings some really bright students to ECU, but we are limited on those. The Access Scholarship is really benefitting someone that maybe couldn’t attend a four-year university without some assistance. It’s touching a lot of different kids.”

Normann’s favorite part about being a donor is meeting the “bright, motivated and disciplined” Access scholars, like Samantha Nichols.

Nichols is one of 13 new scholars that the program welcomed in the 2018-2019 academic year, selected from a pool of more than 600 applicants. The Grifton native said that without the Access Scholarship, attending college would have been much more difficult financially because she comes from a single-parent household. But now that she’s at ECU, she’s working to become a nurse and “can’t wait” to wear ECU-purple scrubs in nursing school. She joined the National Student Nurses’ Association and is a part of the Future Pirate Nurse Living Learning Community.

“After I graduate from nursing school, I will continue on to get my master’s, as well as post-master’s in the Neonatal Nurse Practitioner program at ECU. I plan to work at Vidant Medical Center as a neonatal nurse – eventually neonatal nurse practitioner, as I want to take my degree and make a difference in my own community,” she said.

If she’s anything like the Access Scholars that have come before her, chances are she’ll do just that.