University Scholars Take the Lead

Posted: September 26, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Lexi Soya

His name is Erek Perry, but the students he works with have given him affectionate nicknames: EP or Big Papa Perry. And his rapport with students has even led to an admiring reference on Facebook.

Perry is the director of the University Scholars Program, a four-year, undergraduate merit-based scholarship program. Over the past two years, Perry has worked closely with students to restructure the program. Through their combined effort, the scholars and Perry have developed a deep and mutual appreciation for each other.

Each year, the most competitive admitted Mason students are invited to apply to the University Scholars Program. From this group, 25 to 30 new freshmen are offered the award. They then participate in a program that offers much more than financial support.

“We seek to provide our students with a rich intellectual, social and cultural experience, as well as support their aspirations in life and work,” says Perry.

The scholars engage in a variety of programs, including an extended orientation, a mentoring component, special interest committees, a spring and fall retreat and a University Scholars Convocation, Perry explains.

The program also provides students with the tools they need to succeed in academics and beyond. Scholars enjoy early registration, priority housing, access to the Noreen McGuire Pettyman Scholars Lounge, special consideration for admittance into the George Mason Law School and Virginia Commonwealth University Medical School, new specialized courses taught by top Mason faculty members and opportunities to network with University Scholars alumni.

They also benefit from partnerships with the Honors Program, the Robinson Professors and the Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program.

Unity and camaraderie within the program set it apart from others. One component that creates a sense of kinship among scholars is the Living-Learning Community. All participating students are required to live in the same residence hall their freshman year. They also take a University 100 course together.

“My favorite part of the program is living together with the other scholars,” explains Kristen Thoms, a freshman scholar majoring in biology. “One of my best experiences so far was when my floor surprised me for my birthday – I came into my room and everyone was there. They decorated the room and got me cupcakes.”

Since leadership is also a pillar of the program, students are encouraged to take on leadership roles within the group by becoming committee officers or class representatives.

“The class reps are the liaison between the program director and the students,” says Amanda Utterback, a sophomore class representative majoring in philosophy. “We provide support and advising to the scholars’ office to help the program progress and solve issues pertaining to the well-being of the program and the students.”

The involvement of University Scholars doesn’t stop at the program’s borders; these students hold leadership positions all over Mason and in the community.

“I’m a head resident advisor for President’s Park, a peer advisor, a Mason Ambassador and the copy chief at Broadside (student newspaper),” says Celia Taylor, a senior scholar and program assistant.

S.J. Hightower, a freshman scholar majoring in global affairs, has been at Mason for only one month, but he’s not wasting any time. “I’ve basically jumped in head first,” says S.J. “I’m a Mason Ambassador, I’ve written for Broadside, I’ve joined the College Democrats, and I’m looking for more.”

“This is a group of very talented students who are full of energy, full of ideas, have a love for learning, want to grow and like to make a difference in peoples’ lives,” says Perry. “I see their potential, and it boggles my mind to think of all the possibilities.”

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