UofM celebrates graduation of first Opportunity Scholars cohort  

April 21, 2021  — The Opportunity Scholars program at the University of Memphis is off to a remarkable start. In May, 12 members of the first cohort will graduate. The other seven among the 19 in the initial group remain enrolled and are on track to complete their undergraduate degrees over the next year.  

Opportunity Scholars is a chance for high school graduates in the State of Tennessee to earn a higher-education degree despite not being eligible for in-state tuition, federal aid or student loans due to their residency status. The UofM partnered with Equal Chance for Education, a non-profit based in Nashville, to provide scholarships to such students based on academic excellence, financial need and interview evaluation without regard to race, religion or nation of birth. 

The entire first group of graduating Opportunity Scholars will do so with honors and a combined 3.56 GPA. Graduates include students in Business Information and Technology, Health Sciences, Nursing, Biology, Social Work, Education and Criminal Justice. Several have already landed full-time jobs to begin their careers or have been accepted to further their education in graduate school.   

“I volunteered to help build and manage the Opportunity Scholars program four years ago,” said Opportunity Scholars senior program manager Jacki Rodriguez. “In that time, these students and Equal Chance for Education have continued to show me that this was one of the best decisions of my life. Their talent, determination and willingness to always support one another despite enormous obstacles has not only inspired me to continue to build on this program, but also to advocate for more resources that ensure diversity and equality among all UofM students. I’m thrilled to see them graduate and meet this goal for themselves and their families. I cannot wait to see what new goals they make and realize in the years to come.” 

The UofM is committed to ensuring anyone with the skills and motivation needed to earn a degree has access to higher education, which forms the basis of the Opportunity Scholars program and many like it at the University.  

Each student within Opportunity Scholars is provided academic and holistic support through monthly one-on-one meetings with Rodriguez as well as access to alumni and peer mentor networks. They also receive access to free consultations with immigration lawyers, emergency aid as needed, career planning and educational workshops. 

“The success we are seeing within the Opportunity Scholars program is extremely impressive,” said UofM President M. David Rudd. “It is a testament to these remarkable students, Jacki and the overall foundation of the program. Even throughout a year of immense challenges presented by the pandemic, our Opportunity Scholars have remained unfazed and continued to thrive. Our UofM community is excited to see continued growth within the program from this terrific starting point.”   

To learn more about the Opportunity Scholars program, visit memphis.edu/opportunity/.