UMC Links

First Cohort of U of U Opportunity Scholars to Graduate Friday

May 4, 2005 — This Friday, the first cohort of Utah Opportunity Scholars, comprised of 17 students, will realize a meaningful goal: college graduation.

All are first-generation students of color who were awarded scholarships in the University of Utah’s Utah Opportunity Scholarship Program (UOSP) four years ago.

Twenty-two-year-old Sarah Jackson, who will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and a minor in African American studies, plans to enter a doctoral program at the University of Michigan. The Honors student wants to be a professor of communication and ethnic studies. A presidential intern to U President Michael Young, Jackson, who worked all through her undergraduate years, will graduate with a cumulative 3.7 grade point average and will be the convocation speaker for the College of Humanities.

“For me, the greatest thing about the Utah Opportunity Scholarship was having mentors and allies on campus whom I could go to if I had questions or concerns,” Jackson says. “And the scholarship paid for college-that definitely helped.”

Kristi Ryujin, director of the Utah Opportunities Scholarship and Grants Programs at the U, notes, “The Utah Opportunity Scholarship Program recruits students who will enrich diversity at the University. We make every attempt to support their academic and personal success while they are here. The presence and success of these students at the University benefits them individually, but also enhances the educational experiences and lives of our entire campus community.”

Another member of the first UOSP class, Bosnian student Amra Ferhatbegovic, 21, finished her undergraduate degree in German and international studies last year and is now studying German literature as a graduate student at the U. After completing her master’s degree she plans to go to law school. “I would like to study human rights and international law and would love to work for the United Nations and maybe even return to Bosnia and be active in human rights,” the Honors student explains. The best part of being a Utah Opportunity Scholar was “working together with so many people-it was great!”

Kent Ma, 22, another student from the first cohort of Utah Opportunity Scholars, will complete his undergraduate degree in exercise and sport science this fall. The son of Vietnamese immigrant parents who fled their country during the Vietnam War, Ma was born and raised in Salt Lake City. When it came to his studies, he says, “It was never about doing ‘whatever.’ I always thought ‘I’ve got to get to college. I’ve got to get to college. I’ve got to get to college.'”

Ma calls his admittance into the UOSP “a stroke of luck.” When he found out the scholarship covered four years of books, tuition and fees, he says, “The relief was unbelievable! And every time I wanted to skip class I’d think ‘I can’t.’ I took school seriously because I was a first-generation college student. Without the Utah Opportunity Scholarship Program, I don’t know where I’d be.” Ma plans to complete graduate work in sports psychology and desires to be a physician’s assistant.

According to Karen Dace, associate vice president for diversity at the University, “Eighty-five percent of the Utah Opportunity scholars-a very impressive figure-will graduate in four years.”

Utah Opportunity Scholarships are offered to up to 20 students each year and cover the cost of resident tuition, fees and books for up to $5,000 annually for four years of attendance at the University of Utah. Selected students participate in a faculty mentor plan as well as academic and social support programs. To renew the award each year, Utah Opportunity Scholars must maintain academic achievement and progress towards the bachelor’s degree.

Utah Opportunity Scholarships (UOS) are offered to entering freshmen that reside in the greater Salt Lake City area. Eligible students are first-generation college students and/or those with demonstrated financial need. Scholars are selected from applicants whose ethnic background is under-represented in higher education in Utah.

Created four years ago, the Utah Opportunity Scholarship Program recognizes that a racially and ethnically diverse student body benefits and enriches the educational experiences of all students, faculty and staff.

For more information on the University of Utah Opportunity Scholarship Program (USOP), call 801-581-4145, or visit