It has only been a couple of months since the first six students selected to participate in Missouri State University-West Plains’ Corps of Opportunity program began their on-campus jobs, but they said they’ve already reaped benefits from the scholarship/work-to-learn that combines scholarships and on-campus work opportunities for qualified students who need financial help to pay for their college education.
“It is designed to assist students who, because of their financial situation, still fall through the cracks of current financial aid options,” said Dennis Lancaster, assistant to the chancellor and an organizer of the program. “Federal and state financial aid programs provide assistance to students who have the greatest financial need, but the Corps of Opportunity program targets students who have unmet financial need, whether or not they received benefits from one of these governmental programs. It provides another financial aid opportunity for students who don’t qualify for the government programs but still have unmet financial need.”
The program goes beyond providing this much needed financial assistance to students, however. “In addition to providing students with on-campus jobs that will enable them to fund their education, the Corps of Opportunity also provides participants with real life work experiences that will aid them in the workforce after graduation, and it provides the university with a group of exemplary students who, in addition to exhibiting a strong work ethic, good character, and a serious desire to learn, can fill personnel voids in the university’s operation,” Lancaster explained.
Several of the students noted how their jobs have given them greater interpersonal skills. “I’ve developed management skills by managing the Grizzly House,” said Nick Openshaw of Plato, who is working in the Office of Student Life and Development. “I’m planning to go into education and get my master’s degree so I can teach at the college level. This job is giving me a lot of experience dealing with college students.”
“I’m learning how to talk to people in a professional setting,” added Viki Castleman of Houston, who has been assigned to the Office of Registration and Records. “I’m learning a lot of basic stuff you don’t normally learn from a classroom.”
For Chris Saner, West Plains, who struggles with shyness, his job at the Drago College Store has brought him out of his shell. “I’m better with people now. I’m more open,” he explained.
For others, the benefit has been the extra money. Those selected for the program receive up to $2,000 each fall and spring semester, as well as the earnings from their jobs, which pay $7.50 per hour. Full-time students (enrolled in 12 credit hours or more each semester) are required to work 15 hours per week during the semesters and 40 hours per week during the summer session for a total of no more than 1,000 hours per year.
“I’m a single mom, and this program is helping me with my day care costs so I can continue my education,” Tarah White of West Plains explained. “It’s also helped me with the cost of gas. My car has broken down twice since I started work in the Financial Aid Office, so it’s really helped a lot in that regard, too.”
“The program is helping me with the cost of gas,” said Katherine Norris, Elk Creek, who is working in the Admissions Office. “The money also will help when I get my own apartment.”
“I’m in the nursing program, so my job is helping me cover the extra expenses of that program,” added Erica Wiley, West Plains, who is working in the University Communications Office.
It’s also given the students the opportunity to become more involved on campus. “I like to meet people, and I’ve met a lot of people on campus and in the community I probably wouldn’t have through my job,” Wiley said.
“It gave me the opportunity to learn more about the school and how it’s run,” Castleman added. “I really never knew much about the ladies in the Registration and Records office. They’re hilarious. We have a great time.”
“As a first-time freshman, I’m more comfortable on campus, thanks to my job,” Norris said.
In addition to their academic transcripts, Corps of Opportunity students also will receive work transcripts detailing their work history and activities for use to apply for future jobs, Lancaster said, noting every effort is made to place the students in jobs that are related to their chosen career fields. This appeals to White, who is pursuing an accounting degree. “Working in the Financial Aid Office is a great place for me to start,” she said. “It’s giving me great experience.”
Initial funding for the Corps of Opportunity program came from a small portion of the $500,000 additional appropriation for the campus provided by the Missouri General Assembly in 2007. Additional donations over the past year from university friends gives officials hope that the program can be expanded soon.
“We’ve already received a substantial boost from long-time university supporters Bill and Virginia Darr, who contributed seed money for an endowment for the program through a matching gift that was part of the Campus Opportunities Campaign that ended in June,” Lancaster said. “We hope to build on that donation through additional funding sources so we can expand the program to include additional students, maybe as early as this fall, if funding permits.”
Students who are interested in participating in the program can contact Lancaster at 417-255-7965 or by e-mail at DennisLancaster@MissouriState.edu. He reminded that students will be selected for the program based primarily on unmet financial need, which is described as the total cost of attending college minus all financial aid awarded (grants, scholarships, loans, etc.) and estimated contributions by the student and his/or her family toward those college costs. Applicants, however, also will have to demonstrate good character, a strong work ethic and academic potential in the application process to be considered.
“This program can be a big help for a non-traditional student who wants to go back to school, as well as a traditional student who has unmet financial need,” Lancaster said.