In a recent Mitchell Institute video featuring Abby Roy ’16, the Bowdoin junior says she promised her parents she would cover half her college tuition. During Roy’s senior year of high school, her mother drew a big thermometer on a poster to track the scholarships her daughter won, coloring the thermometer in with bands of red each time she received good news.
Being awarded a Mitchell scholarship was a particularly sweet achievement for Roy, who is from Winslow, Maine. Her father grew up in Waterville, the hometown of Sen. U.S. Sen. George J. Mitchell ’54, the backer behind the scholarship. Roy’s mother is assistant principal at the George J. Mitchell School in Waterville.
Twenty years ago, Sen. Mitchell set up The Mitchell Institute to help Maine students attend college or university. Every year, the Institute awards a college scholarship to one graduating senior from each of the 130 public high schools in Maine. The financial support for students for 2014 is up to $7,000 over four years, and the organization has pledged to raise that amount within a few years to $10,000. Selection is based on academic promise, financial need and a history of community service. Since 1995, the Mitchell Scholarship Program has awarded over $10 million to more than 2,000 Maine students, including 148 Bowdoin students.
At the moment, 29 Bowdoin students have Mitchell scholarships. John Visentin ’14, of Cumberland Foreside, said the scholarship money has significantly “lowered the amount of loans” he’s had to take out. Besides offering money, the Mitchell Institute also tries to cultivate a network among its students. Ryan Szantyr ’16, a Bowdoin Mitchell Scholar from Poland, Maine, calls the scholarship “much more than a check. It’s great to have a network of scholars built in.”
Each fall break, the Institute invites Mitchell scholars to a weekend retreat in Millinocket, Maine. Students stay in cabins, hike and participate in leadership development activities. In the spring, the Institute organizes a professional development day in Portland, inviting students to meet and mingle with professionals in the area. The organization also encourages students to reach out to its staff for career advice or job contacts, which Roy refers to as “no-agenda coffee dates.”
“It’s encouraging to know there’s a group of people who believe in me and there’s an organization that really wants me to succeed,” Roy said.
Mitchell Scholar Jiawei Zou ’16, of Orono, Maine, said he only realized the full significance of the Mitchell scholarship when he went to its gala dinner in November. There he brushed shoulders with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, Sen. Mitchell, CEOs and even a few parents of former high school classmates. “The most surprising thing about the event was…realizing what kind of network the Mitchell scholarship held,” he said.
Meeting Sen. Mitchell was also “one of the biggest perks” for Mitchell scholar Ameena Khan ’14, who is from Waterville. “Sen. Mitchell has a tremendous sense of altruism, a characteristic which he and the Mitchell Institute instill in all scholars,” she said.
While the Institute focuses on Maine students attending Maine colleges and universities, Meg Baxter, the executive director of the organization, says a small number of scholarships — 10 percent to 15 percent — are given to students studying out of state.
There is no expectation that Mitchell scholars stay in Maine after graduating, explained Roy, who interned for the Mitchell Institute last summer. But she added, “I feel like the scholarship encourages giving back to Maine.”
And the Institute tries to smooth the pathways to make this possible. Khan, a senior, said the Institute gave her a summer fellowship to shadow various positions in hospice care in Waterville, satisfying her desire to better understand Maine’s hospice care system. And the Institute has helped her connect with several potential employers in Maine, “making it enticing and feasible to remain in the state following graduation,” she added.