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Scholarship provides second chance

After dropping out of college 10 years ago, Matthew Dodd will receive his bachelor’s degree in environmental science and policy this December with help from the Osher Re-entry Scholarship program.

USF received its second $50,000 grant for the scholarship this month from the Bernard Osher Foundation, which funds Dodd and 19 other non-traditional students at USF this semester. Dodd will be the first at the University to graduate from the program.

The Osher Re-entry Scholarship program, which started in 2008, received its first $50,000 grant last year.

USF is one of three institutions in Florida to receive this endowment, along with Eckerd College and the University of Miami, said Gerene Thompson, assistant director for Metro Initiatives, which coordinates the program.

The scholarship is awarded to students who return to school after a significant break of five years or more, Thompson said. It covers 100 percent of a student’s tuition for one semester, and students can apply for the program more than once.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” Dodd said. “I didn’t think they offered scholarships for people who had been out of school for that long.”

Dodd, 30, started at USF in 1997 as a freshman living on campus, but in his third year he moved into an off-campus apartment with a few friends.

“That was the beginning of the end of my college career,” he said.

Dodd said he became discouraged by the 10-mile commute to campus and the constant need to work to pay for his apartment and car.

“I started getting some D’s and F’s,” he said. “So eventually, to save myself before my GPA was really bad, I dropped out.”

After seven years of working as a beer distributor and three years trading stock, Dodd returned to USF in fall 2007.

“It just took me that long to mature to the level where I understood how important it was to be at college,” he said.

Dodd said the scholarship money makes going back to school easier.

“You can focus more on school and take the extra time to work on a paper and really immerse yourself in school, rather than immersing yourself completely in your job,” he said.

Applicants to the program must be between 25 to 50 years old and have a cumulative gap of five or more years in their education to qualify, Thompson said.

“(The program) is really designed to cater to a population that you typically don’t see scholarships and grants targeted for, by the age qualifications and the fact that it is a re-entry scholarship,” Thompson said.

Funds for the fall semester are still available, said Lagretta Lenker, senior director of Metro Initiatives. The application deadline is Oct. 15.

“We found out through the U.S. Census Bureau that over a million people in the USF seven-county service area listed ‘some college’ as their highest degree of attainment,” Lenker said. “If we could reach even a small number of those people through this re-entry program, we could help them have a more stable future.”

Lenker said there are 10,000 non-traditional students at USF, but the program does not have enough funds to help them all.

Scholarships are distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis. Applications are available online at usf4you.org or by calling the USF E-Campus office at 888-USF4YOU or visiting the Metro Initiatives office in SVC 1072.

“I think people don’t take the time to find out about (scholarships),” Dodd said. “They think they don’t qualify for them, but where there’s a will, there’s a way. It’s not going to be dropped in your lap.”