Feature Stories Alumni: Once College Now, always College Now: Alumni fund scholarship for students

Group shot of College Now students
UMass Dartmouth's College Now program is cultivating an on-campus community that strives to reach new heights of success.
Feature Stories Alumni: Once College Now, always College Now: Alumni fund scholarship for students
Once College Now, always College Now: Alumni fund scholarship for students

The UMass Dartmouth Alumni Association established a current use scholarship for hard-working College Now students set to graduate this spring.

For the past 57 years, UMass Dartmouth’s College Now program makes college a reality for students who have faced academic and personal hardships. Offering practical services like academic counseling and individualized instruction transforms student doubt into confidence and strengthens their academic skillsets, crafting a close community on campus that sticks with scholars long after they depart Ring Road.

As a proud College Now alum, Ucal Palmer ’94 is a prime example of the program’s mantra, “Once College Now, always College Now.” While a student in the early 1990s, the program helped him achieve his goal of earning a degree through hard work, determination, and an outpouring of support from College Now staff.

“There’s so much value in the College Now program because it’s for students who once thought going to college was impossible,” said Palmer. Now living in Atlanta, GA, he’s traveled back to campus to speak with current College Now students who share aspirations reminiscent of his own, dishing out helpful advice and motivational quips.

“Students are learning how to acclimate to the university and this new way of life,” he continued. “College Now gives students a backbone to survive higher education, and counselors hold students accountable up until the day they graduate.”

Now serving on the UMass Dartmouth Alumni Association since 2017, Palmer fostered such a deep connection to the program that he became a fierce advocate for the College Now – Alumni Scholarship that will financially benefit current students in the program. On reasons why, Palmer said, “It’s hard to get a good education when you’re worried about how your books or tuition is going to be paid for. As an Alumni Association member, I feel like I should do everything I can to take one less burden off their plate so they can focus on their studies.”

Palmer speaks to students
Palmer addresses students at a student networking event in 2023.

Scholarships change lives

While UMass Dartmouth is an affordable school compared to other neighboring options in Massachusetts, financial support is critical to current students choosing to pursue higher education on Ring Road. Nearly 80% of UMassD students receive financial aid, and with 57% of UMassD’s student body proudly enrolling as the first in their families to attend college, that need for financial aid is becoming more prominent.

However, awards like the College Now – Alumni Scholarship ensure that students in this program have the monetary means to overcome obstacles and ceaselessly pursue the future of their dreams.

“We have a large low-income population, and the reality is that financial aid packages are not keeping pace with the cost of education,” said Craig Elkins, the Director of the College Now program who works to support students from all walks of life. “Being able to award a scholarship like this helps ensure that those students who are doing well academically have the resources they need to continue their enrollment and earn their credentials.”

Elkins stands tall on the belief that alumni who give back like Palmer personify the success of the program itself. He said of the alumni who established this scholarship, “These were students who may have been in the program or benefitted from financial assistance at some point. Now that they’ve graduated and made it, they’re eager to support students just as they had been during their college years.”

This year’s recipients of the College Now - Alumni Scholarship, Tyler Gmyr ’24 and Ariel Then ’24, certainly feel the love in this act of generosity. Alongside other scholarship recipients and 80 first-year students turned degree candidates, they gratefully accepted the award at the 56th annual Share the Dream banquet, an event that encourages equity across all ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic upbringings on campus and beyond.

Elkins & students at Share the Dream event
Like one big family, students in the College Now program laugh and joke with Director Craig Elkins at the 56th annual Share the Dream banquet.

Gmyr and Then express how critical it is to receive a scholarship not just financially, but personally as well. While this scholarship will alleviate stress weighing on their shoulders, it also acts as a bridge that connects generations of Corsairs together, bound by common struggles and a shared drive to succeed.

“The scholarship from the Alumni Association is honestly such a blessing,” said Gmyr, a star football player who works just as hard off the field as he does on. “They’ve gone to college and obviously understand how expensive the experience can be. These funds will ease that financial burden.

“It’s amazing to have support from the Alumni Association because it’s telling of their time at UMassD,” he continued. “I feel like the more they give back, the more they got out of their college career here. It’s awesome to know that I have people behind me that want to see me do great things.”

“I feel a sense of community being part of the College Now program, and this scholarship only amplifies that feeling,” said Ariel, a psychology major from Johnston, RI. “Aside from the scholarship giving me a financial platform to stand upon as I finish my studies, it makes me feel like my accomplishments and hard work are being acknowledged. Because of these alumni who gave back, I would love to continue contributing to the community in whatever ways I can as a soon-to-be young alumna.”

Along with the rest of the Alumni Association, Palmer hopes this scholarship reminds program alumni that the College Now mantra doesn’t lose its meaning upon graduation, and encourages other UMassD alumni to embark on their own philanthropic journeys.

“In a lot of cases, alumni feel like we’re supposed to give money, and we should because it takes money to get these programs running for students,” said Palmer. “However, you can also give your time and talents. There’s so much more to philanthropy when you’re able to become a mentor for current students. I firmly believe that students need to get connected to more alumni who have been in their shoes before and are willing to help, even from a thousand miles away.”