Empowering Futures: The HFA Opportunity Scholars Program
A Path to Academic Success, Community, and Personal Growth
By Amaya Morris ’24
Within the UMass Amherst College of Humanities and Fine Arts (HFA), an important program is changing the lives of first-year students. The HFA Opportunity Scholars program is not just an educational initiative; it is a catalyst for empowerment, community building, and personal development.
A Year of Connection and Support
Opportunity Scholars is a multi-year program specially designed to support historically underrepresented and first-generation students as they begin their journey at UMass Amherst. The program brings these students together as a close-knit cohort, uniting them in a shared First-Year Seminar class during their initial semester. However, its influence extends beyond academics, as it also works to aid in the personal development of its students.
Alex Szanton, a sophomore in the Department of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, attests to the profound connections they have formed through Opportunity Scholars.
“It's a great program to be in,” Szanton says, “not only because I get to make closer connections— I’ve made so many friends from the class—but I also carry a role that allows me to connect with incoming students.”
For Szanton, the program has been instrumental in creating a sense of community.
Financial support is another pillar of the Opportunity Scholars program. Students who excel in the First-Year Seminar class with a GPA of 3.00 or higher become eligible for a textbook stipend for the following semester. This support not only alleviates financial burdens, but also underscores the program's commitment to academic success.
Norah Thomas, a sophomore vocal jazz major, shares a similar experience as Szanton, emphasizing the program’s role in fostering this sense of belonging.
“Opportunity Scholars gave me a place to be with people from HFA,” Thomas says. “The program has allowed me to meet more people who have shared similar experiences."
The benefits of the program extend well beyond the first year. Alumni connections, fine arts cultural trips, and opportunities for research presentations await those within the program. Opportunity Scholars act as a guiding force in the personal development of its students, offering not just academic support but also invaluable career advice and development.
“It's been extremely resourceful for me,” one student shared during the fall 2023 Opportunity Scholars Welcome Reception. “I’ve been able to utilize Opportunity Scholars for assistance with my classes and career advice.”
Join the Community
The HFA Opportunity Scholars program empowers students to strive for academic excellence, make lasting connections, and become well-rounded individuals all while offering support and adequate resources.
As Szanton puts it, “This is a great opportunity for us… being a part of this program has allowed me to create connections both inside and outside of the HFA community.”
For incoming underrepresented HFA students seeking a transformative experience at UMass, the Opportunity Scholars program serves as an invaluable resource, as it exemplifies the power of education and community in shaping a brighter future.
If you are an incoming first-generation student or are a member of an historically underrepresented population and are interested in joining the HFA Opportunity Scholars, please contact the HFA Advising and Career Center at advising [at] hfa [dot] umass [dot] edu.