The University of Mississippi distributed scholarship offers recently to dozens of elite student recruits at a banquet with community leaders in Tupelo, Miss. But these are not cornerbacks with blazing speed, power forwards who pull in a dozen rebounds a game or pitchers with ridiculously low ERAs.
Instead, these sought-after students are all Eagle Scouts.
Many of the recipients are also accomplished athletes, and most boast solid academic records, but the reason Ole Miss is courting them has more to do with their demonstrated leadership, organizational skills and commitment to community service, all validated by achieving Scouting's highest rank. This scene is being repeated several times this spring across Mississippi and Tennessee as local councils of Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of America host recognition events for their 2013 Eagle Scouts and Gold Award recipients, respectively.
"These outstanding young men and women are exactly the kind of students we want at the University of Mississippi," Chancellor Dan Jones said. "Less than 5 percent of all Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts achieve these honors, and the ones that do demonstrate remarkable commitment both to the values of their respective organizations and to setting and achieving worthy goals.
"The university has a long tradition of training leaders – from business and political leaders across our state and nation to champion athletes and military officers – and I am confident that these young men and women can continue to develop their potential through the programs we offer at Ole Miss."
Each of the honorees received a congratulatory letter from Jones and an elaborate certificate affirming that they are eligible for one of the $6,000 scholarships. The presentation made an impression on many of the Scouts, as well as on their parents.
"This really says a lot about the university, that they value the achievement and the dedication that the rank of Eagle represents," said Sean Akins, scoutmaster of Troop 38 in Ripley, Miss., and father of two of the night's honorees, Brant and Bryce Akins. "They are placing the Eagle rank and the Gold Award on the same footing as being the president of the senior class or the class valedictorian. It says a lot about Scouting, and it says a whole lot about the university."
Brant Akins, a junior at Ripley High School, plans to attend Ole Miss with hopes of becoming a stockbroker. Bryce Akins, a senior who plans to enroll at UM this fall with an eye on earning a law degree after completing his undergraduate studies, also has qualified for two other academic scholarships.
"When you add all that up, it's a nice chunk of money, and it puts a real dent in the costs of going to college," Sean Akins said.
Douglas Crane, an Eagle Scout from Iuka, Miss., plans to use his scholarship to help attend the UM School of Pharmacy.
"This will really help a lot," said Crane, a member of Troop 26. "The costs are so high these days, and this will help me not have to take out so many student loans."
Officials of the BSA Yocona Area Council, headquartered in Tupelo, also are grateful for the acknowledgement that the scholarships represent.
"Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout is a daunting task that takes years of hard work and determination," said Rick Chapman, the council executive. "The scholarship that the University of Mississippi offers to every Eagle Scout is a validation of the hard work that the boys, with the support of their parents, put in to Scouting, and is a tremendous motivator in having the boys go that extra mile and complete all the requirements to become an Eagle.
"The parents of our Scouts are thrilled to hear that this opportunity is available for their son and for all those that stay in Scouting."
One of those parents is Kim Winters, whose son, Bradley Winters, is a sophomore at Lafayette High School in Oxford, Miss. The Eagle Scout with Troop 146 wants to be a doctor and is already starting to look for scholarships and other ways to pay for college.
"This will help a lot toward his undergraduate degree," his mother said. "We're looking at all kinds of ways to pay for things, and this is the first piece."
Over the past five years, the university has awarded more than 400 Eagle Scout scholarships and more than 60 Gold Award scholarships to enrolling freshmen. The awards are valued at $1,500 annually for up to four years of undergraduate studies.
The goal is to give out as many as possible, said Laura Diven-Brown, UM director of financial aid.
"I really want to get the word out about this opportunity," she said. "These students have worked so hard and are so deserving of their awards. I hope to see more of them on campus."
Scouting organizers also use the scholarship program to spur interest in their own programs. Last summer, the Girl Scouts of Greater Mississippi council, based in Jackson, took a group of Gold Award honorees on a tour of college campuses where the scholarships are available.
The scholarship program complements and reinforces the mission of Scouting as a whole, Chapman said.
"The vision of the council is to help prepare every possible youth in our 12 counties to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law," he said. "Our mission includes providing a safe environment where boys can develop leadership skills while learning about hundreds of different career fields.
"With the help of Ole Miss we can unlock a world of opportunities to them and show them a path, with higher education, that can help them achieve their dreams."
Individuals or organizations interested in supporting this program can contact the Office of University Development at 662-915-3937.