"Without this scholarship, I wouldn’t be in school"
Robert Safsten was hit by a wave of culture shock when he began BYU as a freshman. He figured that his hometown of Lewiston, Idaho, — with all its residents and some of the cattle — could fit nicely within the bounds of the campus. He’d never seen so many members in one place.
So when he was invited to meet the sponsors of his scholarship for lunch, he was eager to see a friendly face that he’d never seen before. Kurt and Kim Wheeler, his scholarship donors, greeted Robert with a smile, and were genuinely interested to hear about him and his future.
Robert was one of several hundred recipients of the Signature Scholarship invited to meet sponsors during a luncheon in the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni Building on Sept. 28, 2012.
“Without this scholarship, I wouldn’t be in school,” he said.
From table to table, the scene repeated itself. People came from across the country and from opposite ends of the spectrum to greet one another. They started with smiles and handshakes, and before they’d completed their turkey sandwiches, they’d become lifelong friends.
For students, the annual luncheon was an opportunity to thank those who shared of their means to finance their education.
For donors, it was an opportunity to feel the fire of students who were obviously talented, but lacked the means to pay for an education.
“The Signature Scholarship,” said Lesa Withers, Scholarship Coordinator, “aims to help those with a compelling need, who would not likely attend college without assistance, such as Robert.”
With his engaging smile, Robert quickly became part of his new family. As an outdoor enthusiast, he’d grown up running the white water of three rivers and camping in the northern Idaho mountains.
But surviving in the academic world required assistance beyond his family’s resources, though his mother had prepared him well. “She was always asking how I could improve something,” he said. “She asked if a little more work would improve an essay, or, when I wanted to be a couch potato, she’d say I could use my time better by helping a neighbor down the street or pulling weeds.”
Funding a scholarship — as donors come to understand — has less to do with money, and more to do with how a person blossoms when they learn that someone believes in them, even to the point of giving money.
Something clicks in a student’s life.
“It makes for a crazy life,” said Kaitlyn Vance from Dallas, Texas. She chose BYU because of its emphasis on undergraduate research. “To fit everything into the day, I begin running experiments at 5 a.m. and don’t complete them until after school and studies at 10 p.m.”
Lingering in the back of the hall after the luncheon, long after the students had returned to class, were Dan and Loren Lau, brothers who have been donors for more than a decade. The spirit of the occasion was reward itself and they were in no hurry to leave.
“If someone makes the means available,” said Loren, “there’s nothing more rewarding in terms of investment than in the students we saw today. … They just need some help to take advantage of their talents.”
Tyler Vigue, the donor liaison responsible for Signature Scholarships said, “Donors have the wonderful opportunity to help students who have significant financial needs by providing Signature Scholarships. These scholarships are full-tuition awards that are funded by the donors and named after someone of their choice. This unique program creates special connections between donors and students. Their interactions become memorable and, often, life-changing."
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