OXFORD, Miss. – After two months at the University of Mississippi, freshman Seth Walley said he "couldn’t see (himself) at another place." In fact, Walley was considering a couple of universities closer to his Moss Point home until he learned last February that he’d received the Robert C. Khayat Ole Miss First Scholarship.

Still, though, Walley said, it wasn’t the amount of the scholarship – $25,000 for eight semesters of study – that changed his mind about enrolling at UM.

"It was the fact that under the Ole Miss First program, the person who donates the money for the scholarship is the recipient’s mentor," he said.

In Walley’s case, that mentor is Chancellor Robert Khayat.

"We are indebted to the chancellor for funding a scholarship, for stepping up to set an example," said Ellen Robinson Rolfes, Ole Miss First director. "This shows what kind of leader he is, that he does what he says he’s going to do."

Created in 2001 as the result of Khayat’s desire for the Ole Miss "family" – including alumni, faculty, staff and friends – to provide scholarships for deserving Mississippi students, Ole Miss First is unusual in its mentorship program, modeled after the Ole Miss Women’s Council Scholarship program, Rolfes said.

"I don’t know of any programs anywhere else where the donor or a donor designee is so closely aligned with the student," Rolfes said. "Through these scholarships we’re creating a family culture, which, of course, is the essence of Ole Miss."

Twelve UM students are recipients of Ole Miss First Scholarships, including seven awarded through the Robert C. Khayat Endowment for Ole Miss First, created in 2002 from a $1 million gift by alumnus Mike Starnes. Five other UM students have received scholarships as the result of one-time pledges, such as the one from Khayat and his wife, Margaret.

"Margaret and I wanted to help students have opportunities at Ole Miss, particularly those who could not be here without scholarship support," Khayat said.

Besides the mentorship aspect of the program, Ole Miss First is also unusual in that it allows the donor to support UM’s greatest need – student scholarships – while also supporting a particular college or school, or favorite scholarship program.

A donor may also stipulate that his or her gift be awarded to a student from a particular region or high school. Khayat, for example, designated his gift go to a graduate of Moss Point High School, his alma mater.

Like all Ole Miss First recipients, each of whom is selected by a committee from UM’s Office of Financial Aid, Walley was chosen based on academic performance and leadership activities.

Khayat said that his sister Kathy Murray, who taught Walley at Moss Point High School, "told me about Seth."

"I wasn’t involved in the selection process, but I was pleased with the decision," he said.

The son of Glennis and Sally T. Walley, both of Moss Point, Seth Walley served on Moss Point High’s student council and was the first commanding officer of the school’s Naval Jr. ROTC program. He was a delegate to Boys Nation in Washington, D.C., in 2003 and this summer served as a page for state Sen. Tommy Robertson.

Walley, who plans to major in English and then attend law school, said he hopes to become involved in student government while at Ole Miss. In the meantime, Walley said, "I’m really looking forward to getting to know Chancellor Khayat."

For more information about the Ole Miss First Scholarship program, visit http://www.omfirst.olemiss.edu/scholars, e-mail Rolfes at erolfes@olemiss.edu or call the UM Foundation at 662-915-5944.