NACOGDOCHES, Texas — During the past 10 years, the Gilbert I. “Buddy” Low Scholarship Program has covered the cost of tuition and fees for several San Augustine High School graduates to attend Stephen F. Austin State University.
Those involved with the scholarship program recently celebrated a decade of promoting student success with a luncheon that brought scholarship donors, current and past scholarship recipients, and SFA administrators together.
Low, who graduated from SFA in 1954 and is a trial attorney with Orgain Bell & Tucker in Beaumont, credits his San Augustine teachers with preparing him for the rigors of higher education.
“When I got to SFA, I did well because of the quality education I received from my teachers in San Augustine,” Low said. “I had a job on campus and did pipeline work — hard, hot work — and saved during the summers to pay for my education. I started the scholarship program because I wanted to help students like me who really couldn’t afford to go to college be able to attend SFA and concentrate on their studies.”
Low’s pay-it-forward approach has helped 31 SFA students achieve their dream of higher education.
“During the past decade, we have selected three scholarship recipients per year to join this elite group of student leaders,” said W. Frank Newton, president and chief executive officer of the Beaumont Foundation of America, which administers the scholarship program. “From year to year, the recipients become mentors and support the subsequent year’s recipients, thus continuing the cycle of academic success.”
The scholarships are awarded based on financial need as well as potential for academic success in college. Interested students are screened by the school district and participate in an interview with representatives of the Beaumont Foundation of America.
“If not for this scholarship, I don’t think I would have been financially able to attend college,” said Ben Eberlan, 2014 San Augustine High School graduate and accounting major at SFA. “While the scholarships provide the funds to help us attend college, there is a tremendous support system in place, as well, that helps ensure our success. Everyone from university administrators to faculty members is vested in helping us graduate. If we need help, we get it.”
Twelve scholarship recipients were present at the luncheon along with eight SFA administrators, including SFA President Dr. Baker Pattillo; Dr. Steve Bullard, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Jill Still, vice president for university advancement; and Drs. Janet Tareilo and Mary Nelle Brunson, associate provosts.
“The 1.5-to-1 student-to-administrator ratio at today’s luncheon is a clear indicator of SFA’s commitment to the success of the students in this program,” Newton said. “Many of these administrators have spent time teaching and know that it’s not just the availability of academic resources that make students successful — it’s also about the relationship between the students and those they look to as leaders and mentors.”
Each scholarship recipient is eligible to receive up to $11,200 per year for four years of study at SFA. In addition to paying for tuition and fees, the scholarship also provides reimbursement for books and supplies.
“When I found out I was a Buddy Low Scholarship recipient, I was overwhelmed with joy,” said Cordestine Clifton, a 2014 San Augustine High School graduate and SFA kinesiology major. “Knowing that I had this backing from the program took so much weight off me and my parents. I can go to school now and concentrate on my studies and not have to worry about accumulating debt.”
Chelsea Heidbrink, SFA student success coordinator, manages all student aspects of the program.
“I work to ensure that the students are meeting the scholarship requirements, are engaging at the university, and I help to eliminate the barriers they may face in college,” Heidbrink said. “I advocate for the students and help them in any way I can so their journey at SFA is as smooth as possible.”
During the luncheon, Pattillo addressed attendees and acknowledged Low for his support in helping students from his hometown reach their academic potential.
“Buddy Low never forgot where he came from,” Pattillo said. “His generosity combined with his expectation of success has provided the opportunity for these students to live and learn in a student-centered environment. They have already proven to be leaders among students, and there is no doubt that they will go on to become leaders in their communities and professions.”
For questions about the scholarship program, contact April Smith, associate director of development at SFA, at (936) 468-5406.