Siemens, HBCU Partnership Pays Off for Chicago Public School Students

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by Cassandra West

The cheers and applause that went up inside a darkened hotel ballroom in Chicago Friday night meant some 300 public high school seniors were closer to their dream of getting a college education. For 10 years running, the global electronics and engineering conglomerate Siemens has hosted the HBCU Scholarship Reception, during which Chicago Public School (CPS) students are promised generous scholarships to historically Black colleges and universities from across the country.

At the reception, students sat anxiously in the audience as representatives from 30 HBCUs, who were seated at two long tables on a stage, stepped up to the microphone to announce their list of scholarship packages. When each student’s name was called along with the academic award they were getting, fellow students roared as though a game-winning play had just occurred.

In some ways it had because the students had just secured scholarships ranging from $2,500 to upward of $80,000. This was a big deal for them and their families.

“The program provides an unparalleled opportunity to obtain financial resources to attend a historically Black university,” said Kelsey Riley, a Chicago public school graduate who recalled hearing her name called during the scholarship reception in 2008 and receiving a full-tuition academic scholarship to Xavier University of Louisiana.

Before the reception, more than 1,300 sophomores, juniors and seniors from 55 Chicago public high schools had attended a daylong college and scholarship fair at the Sheraton Hotel & Towers near the city’s lakefront. The fair gave them a chance to meet with and present their academic credentials to HBCU representatives. CPS coordinated the daylong event, and Siemens covered the transportation costs for HBCU reps to come to Chicago.

Last year, more than $38 million in scholarships were offered, according to Marcia Boyd, a project manager at CPS who identifies qualified CPS seniors interested in attending historically Black universities. Boyd then facilitates the process of getting students to apply.

This year’s scholarship total will take a few days to tally, but Boyd and Siemens representatives expect it to exceed last year’s by a few million dollars. Benedict University, located in Columbia, S.C., came with 96 scholarship offers, totaling $3,940,000. Mississippi Valley State University had 13 scholarships to give out.

Students are eligible to apply for scholarships based on their ACT scores and GPAs, explained Nichelle Grant, a senior manager at Siemens who works on the scholarship program and oversees a team that works with schools around the country.

Siemens’ role is to bring the schools and students together, Grant said. “We’re the bridge.”

The HBCUs will hold a scholarship in the students’ names until they have applied and successfully completed all their high school academic requirements, she said.

More than $200 million in scholarships have been awarded since the Siemens-CPS partnership began 10 years ago. “It’s important that we cultivate the future engineers,” Grant said. “We’re always looking for top talent in our organization.”

Between 700 and 800 CPS graduates every year go on to HBCUs. African-American students make up 42 percent of CPS’ total enrollment, but the scholarship offers made at the Siemens event are available to students of all ethnic backgrounds, said Boyd, the CPS coordinator. Around 56 percent of CPS graduates go on to college every year, and the majority stays in state. “Because 87 percent of our students are from low-income families, they can’t afford to go away. This event is one that makes college possible and affordable,” Boyd said.

And making the event possible was the Building Technologies Division of Germany-based Siemens, which employs about 3,000 people in the Chicago area. A contingent of division employees was on hand Friday to advance the conglomerate’s commitment to diversity and STEM education.

There is a diversity component of Siemens’ corporate conscience but not just for diversity’s sake, said Charles Cohen, National Sustainability Education director. “It’s not important where [students] came from; it’s important where they’re going to, and that’s the philosophy that we use. How can we help students step out?”

On Friday night, Hassan Anderson, a senior at Urban Prep Charter Academy, proudly stepped out when he heard his name called. Florida A&M University had offered him a scholarship worth around $8,000.

“Inner-city kids from Chicago don’t usually get these opportunities,” he said. “I feel privileged.” Hassan, who had visited Florida A&M under the Distinguished Young Gentlemen of America program, said he wants to become an educator so he can “influence the lives of kids from urban areas.”

Chikaya Cartman is stepping out, too. The math-loving senior from Gwendolyn Brooks High School and National Honor Society member could barely contain her excitement over the full-ride Presidential Scholarship that Alabama State University had promised her. She was “ecstatic” and relieved not to be worried about paying for college.

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