First-generation students talk

Published 12:44 am Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eleven students from the University of Alabama visited Selma High School Wednesday to encourage students to strive to attend college, and to share advice about applying to the Coca-Cola First Generation Scholars Program at Alabama.

The program offers the first-generation college students a $5,000 scholarship, renewed for four years, if the students maintain a 3.0 grade-point average. Only 12 students are accepted into the program each year.

“They have a very high standard for the students,” said Dianne Teague, UA Student Support Services. “But (University of Alabama) President (Dr. Robert E.) Witt is committed to bring scholarship money to first-generation college students.”

James Steele of Selma has been a member of the program and is now in his senior year.

“I wanted more out of life,” Steele said.

His path to college took a few turns before he was able to have the inspiration, dedication and drive to work for his higher education, Steele said.

Dropping out of school in the seventh grade, Steele found that after working and getting fired from various jobs, he needed to change his life. After receiving his G.E.D., a more confident Steele earned an associate’s degree from a community college before considering taking his education further to a bachelor’s degree in restaurant and hotel management from The University of Alabama.

Steele is 40 years old with a wife and a family and has found a balance in his life to not only commute to Tuscaloosa each day for classes, but also to earn a living to provide for his family.

“I encourage you all to not make the mistakes I made,” Steele said.

Lindsey Lowe, a freshman at Alabama majoring in journalism, is also a member of the program. Lowe was not asked the reasons she could not attend college until she found the Scholars program.

“One of the essays was to tell your circumstance that set you apart,” Lowe said.

She wrote an essay that helped her into the program.

“I’m in this to prove to myself and my family that I can do it,” Lowe said.

Students in the program are expected to also participate in service projects, such as speaking to high school students or volunteering in the Tuscaloosa area. Any first-generation student is encouraged to apply for the scholarship. Part of the requirement from Coca-Cola is that half the recipients must be business majors.