High school graduates from Butte striving to be first-generation college graduates have Montana Tech on their side.
The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation and Montana Resources announced Friday a $597,000 gift to Tech to create a four-year academic scholarship for three high school graduates from Butte over the next three years: 2018, 2019, and 2020.
The Montana Resources Opportunity Scholarship — worth $16,600 every year over four years — will go toward tuition, books, room and board, and fees for a needs-based student who wants to be the first in their family, including parents, to earn a college degree.
Butte High and Butte Central High graduates are eligible to apply for what amounts to a renewable full-ride scholarship.
Built into the scholarships is plenty of hands-on, personable, one-on-on support, Amy Verlanic told The Montana Standard. She is executive director for the Institute for Educational Opportunities at Tech.
“We know that 77 percent of families in Butte do not have a college education,” Verlanic said at the announcement ceremony Friday.
Also, 23 percent of Butte families live in poverty, so Butte has a "significant number of low-income, first-generation students," according to Upward Bound data.
“Those moms and dads who live in Butte are tough, and they’re strong, and they care greatly about their kids’ future, but academic lingo and the timeline for college-prep activities can be daunting to them because it’s something they’re not experienced at," she said.
Enter the federally funded TRiO Upward Bound and Talent Search programs, which provide ongoing extra support for such students in grades seven through 12 whose parents worked the mines, for example, and who were not required to pursue higher education for a job.
“Collectively, those two programs have served first-generation students at Butte High now for about 10 years, so we have a built-in way to identify the students who receive these scholarships — and to make sure we are meeting students their senior year,” added Verlanic.
She said she and her staff are grateful to Montana Resources and the Washington Foundation “for bringing money to something that has been a problem that Tech has been preparing for and addressing for a long, long time.”
Part of the puzzle is figuring out which students meet the needs-based criteria.
For example, TRiO Coordinator Matt Sargent works daily at Butte High and East Middle School instructing eligible students in how to prepare for college.
“We work with them starting in sixth grade,” said Verlanic. “Matt works to identify the best and brightest first-generation students in Butte.”
Theresa Rader, who runs the Student Success Program in Verlanic’s department, zones in on increasing retention and graduation rates, too.
“We provide strategies for students and make them proud of who they are,” added Verlanic. “We celebrate their origins and bring them into the Montana Tech community with a sense of inclusiveness.”
Joe McClafferty, president of the Montana Tech Foundation, who opened the press conference, said the endowment will grow, as it already has $300,000 set aside for future scholarships beyond the initial $597,000 allotted.
“We’re going to build on this,” McClafferty said. “This is the genesis of it. We have plenty of supporters who have already sponsored and donated to the fund. We are going to build it to have 20 or 30 Butte kids coming up here to Montana Tech.”
He referenced EDsmart’s 2016 report that ranked Tech the number-one college of 40 in advancing America’s economic progress — based on alumni salaries and tuition fees, percentage of graduates, and percentage of low-income students, among other markers.
“If we can advance the U.S. economy, we sure as spitfire can advance Montana Tech’s economy — and we can do that through education,” added McClafferty.
Montana Resources has been a staple of the Butte economy since 1986, continuing the copper and molybdenum mining tradition.
MR employs about 350, including many Tech graduates, according to a Tech press release announcing the scholarships.
"Montana Resources wouldn't be what it is today without the support of the Butte community," said MR President Rolin Erickson. "And we are honored to have the opportunity to help open the door to college for Butte youth."