The Madison Award for Academic Excellence is awarded to 350 incoming freshman who have at least a 3.5 unweighted GPA and 1200 SAT or ACT equivalency each year. It’s an annual scholarship of three levels (half, 3/4ths and full in-state tuition) that’s renewed each year for students as long as they maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.
Erica LaRocca, a junior health sciences major, received the email in December of her senior year in high school saying she received the highest level of the award, which covers full in-state tuition fees. For her, it was comforting to know that even if she changed her major, she’d still be able to receive the award.
“I remember literally bursting into tears because it made going to JMU possible,” LaRocca said.
The scholarship is awarded by the colleges and departments at JMU. Dean of admissions Michael Walsh uses a three-year history of student records to determine where the money goes. If 26 percent of students are attending a certain college, then 26 percent of the money will go to that college.
“The students who receive the reward stay and do well,” Walsh said. “It’s not much, but it’s one extra thing that the colleges and departments can do to reach out to some of the top students.”
Each college and department individually decides on the process of letting students know they’re eligible for the award. Some may require an application beyond the standard JMU application while others may ask for a response to a question.
For the future of this award, JMU is committed to increasing the availability of this scholarship. According to Walsh, it’s important to remain competitive with other universities because scholarships are part of what potential students look for in a university.
Steve Purcell, associate dean of the College of Education, is part of the process of distributing the award within his department. He receives a spreadsheet from the Office of Admissions that has the class rank and GPA of students committed to that college.
“It’s kind of a daunting task because we have so little information to work from,” Purcell said. “Is someone with a 4.000 GPA different than somebody with a 3.997?”
Purcell also looks at the top 10 critical shortage areas given by the Virginia Department of Education. Special education occupies the top of the list, so if a student has an interest in that area, Purcell said he feels an obligation that some of the money goes to those students.
To address this issue, Purcell sends an email to eligible students asking them for a reason why they want to go to JMU. Students must write about an impactful experience that happened in their education that makes them want to attend JMU and possibly become a teacher. Purcell and a committee look at their response, as well as the information given to them from Admissions, to make the final decision.
According to Purcell, it’s a heart-wrenching experience. He recognizes that there are far more deserving candidates for the scholarship than money available.
“We easily have over 5,000 students who are eligible for the award,” Walsh said. “It’s not a lot, but it makes a difference for some people.”
Contact Matthew Sasser at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.