Kessler Scholar Program Launches at Saint Mary’s

19 students from across Indiana make up the first cohort

The Kessler Scholars have arrived at Saint Mary’s. The inaugural cohort—19 women who are the first in their families to go to college—came to campus as part of a $1 million, five-year grant that will connect the first-generation students with resources and opportunities across campus. 

As Kessler Scholars, the students arrived ahead of other first-years for a personalized orientation. The goal is that by Friday—when they join the rest of their classmates from the Class of 2027 for the traditional Closing of the Circle and first official Walk Down the Avenue—they will be acclimated to campus life and prepared for what’s ahead in their first year of college.

Part of the Kessler Scholars Collaborative—a nationwide intitiave of the Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation—since 2022, Saint Mary’s joins a network of colleges and universities committed to supporting first-generation students through direct financial support and cohort-based services. Through the grant, the College receives onboarding guidance, curricular resources, and technical support to implement the Kessler Scholars model on campus.

Donna Taylor-Schuman is the lead of the Kessler Scholars Program at Saint Mary’s. She said it is significant that the College has committed to nurturing first-generation students by intentionally creating programs that improve graduation rates and professional opportunities. Nationwide, nearly half of all college students are considered to be first generation (defined as students whose parents do not have a four-year college degree). At Saint Mary’s, 28 percent of the incoming class of 2027 are first generation. 

“We are the only female college in the Collaborative—that is important,” she said. “Our mission is to empower our graduates to make change, to be leaders, to feel supported at every stage of their lives. We want to enroll women who are smart, capable, and eager to grow. And, we want to help remove any barrier to their success, whether it’s financial or social. So the Kessler Scholars Program complements what we already do. Also, being part of this national collaborative, Saint Mary’s will share what we provide across the nation.”

Saint Mary’s is one of 16 higher education institutions in the Collaborative, joining Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Michigan, Queens College, St. Francis College, Syracuse University, Bates College, Brown University, Centre College, Ohio State University, University of California-Riverside, University of Dayton, University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

As part of their commitment to the Collaborative, Saint Mary’s students in the Kessler Scholars Program must maintain their grades, participate in a community-based service project, and agree to live on campus all four years. They will meet with peer mentors regularly and participate in programming and workshops throughout their time at Saint Mary’s. In the fall of 2024 and each fall while they are on campus, they will help welcome and acclimate the next cohorts of scholars. 

Taylor-Schuman said alumnae can also play a part in the success of the Kessler Scholars Program as mentors or field-trip sponsors. She encourages those who were first-gen themselves to consider speaking about their college experience, their professional lives, and offer advice. 

“We want them to see their first generation status as an asset and not a liability,” she said. “It's something I want them to embrace. I believe that having first-generation students in the classroom brings a different kind of mix to the campus setting.”

The Kessler Scholars Program is supported by the Kessler Scholars Collaborative and the American Talent Initiative with funding support from the Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Read more about the Kessler Scholars Program at Saint Mary's here.

August 17, 2023