Campus launches Cosby Commonwealth Challenge

By Ed Blaguszewski

With an initial endowment of approximately $340,000 from the Oct. 29 performance by Bill Cosby, the campus is launching a new program to recruit, encourage and support students from Springfield and Holyoke elementary, middle and high schools who want to attend the university.

The Cosby Commonwealth Challenge Fund seeks to help students build a record of academic accomplishment and school success throughout their educational career. The program is aimed at recruiting and encouraging students from partner schools in Springfield and Holyoke who maintain a strong grade-point average and stay on track for college. Selected participants will have a contract that links strong academic performance at the elementary through high school levels to a guaranteed financial award toward study at UMass Amherst upon graduation from high school.

Charlena M. Seymour, provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, says creation of the Cosby Commonwealth Challenge Fund is great news for the university, and for the students who will benefit from it. “This is bringing attention to the university in a very positive way,” Seymour says. “Bill Cosby is one of our most famous alumni, and he is helping create a program that allows him to exert a positive influence on both the university and the students who will come here to improve their education.”

Students who complete the program successfully can attend UMass Amherst and receive an award in the annual amount of tuition for four years—assuming they also maintain good standing in their major at the university. The university will also create a leadership and enrichment program to which the participants will be invited. An annual public recognition event will be organized by the university and school districts.

Teachers, administrators, and community leaders from the partner schools will serve as Cosby Challenge “talent scouts.” They will be invited to nominate students who have the requisite potential for achievement, leadership and motivation—the essential and dynamic qualities of a Cosby Scholar. Representatives of UMass Amherst and the two school districts will select those students who meet the criteria and who would be invited to enter into a Cosby Scholar Contract.

There will be four stages to the selection process and four levels of Cosby Scholars:

In grade 3, students will be selected as Cosby Challenge Fund “nominees.”

In grade 6, those students who have fulfilled their contract thus far will be selected as Cosby Challenge Fund “semi-finalists.”

In grade 9, students who have fulfilled their contract would be selected as “finalists.”

In grade 12, recipients or awardees will be selected based on how well they fulfilled their contracts.

The fund will initially be endowed by the proceeds of the Cosby Comes Home performance and a 50-percent state match. It is expected that the initial endowment will be enhanced through additional fund-raising efforts. Corporations and various local organizations will be invited to recognize Cosby Scholar nominees, semi-finalists, finalists and recipients by contributing goods, services, memberships and the like. For every $1 million in the endowment, it expected that a total of 20 Cosby Scholars will receive annual full tuition awards.

In addition to a semi-annual review, documentation and feedback on student progress, students will benefit from being in the professional development schools that are partnering with UMass Amherst and have the opportunity to be mentored by faculty and teacher interns from the Amherst campus. Each Cosby Scholar nominee, semi-finalist and finalist will also be helped to maintain a portfolio of their activities in middle and high school, much like an artist or a designer or an engineer maintains a compilation of their work and accomplishments. This portfolio will be electronic, using either web or CD-ROM technology so that the students are learning and using information technologies as part of their school experience. Undergraduate students from the university’s Information Technology Program and the School of Education will assist the Cosby Scholars in the personal portfolio documentation process.