Resilient Pioneers: Early College Students Come Back to Campus

Members of Merrimack’s Pioneer Scholars first and second cohorts have returned to campus and are thriving.

  • First-year Pioneer Scholars enjoying a scavenger hunt on campus during the fall 2020 semester.

“I was so excited when I found out we’d be back on campus this semester. Although my college experience has had its stressful moments, the wonderful learning I’ve done at Merrimack has made it all worth it. I couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else,” stated Pioneer Scholar Omara Acosta ’23.

In 2017, Merrimack and our partner school in Lawrence, Massachusetts, Abbott Lawrence Academy (ALA), initiated a remarkable Early College Program (ECP). Quickly, this led to the establishment of the Pioneer Scholars in 2019. Pioneer Scholars (10 selected in the first year) represent the most accomplished ECP students who, upon high school graduation from ALA, enroll at Merrimack with financial assistance covering tuition, room, board and books, as well as dedicated academic guidance and support from faculty and staff.

Unlike many other early college and “full-ride” scholarship programs throughout the country, Merrimack has succeeded with a 100% retention rate for the first cohort of Pioneer Scholars who completed their freshman year learning remotely during spring semester 2020.

“I am so proud of our first Pioneer Scholars class. They have already accomplished so much, even with the added challenge of COVID. I am continuously impressed with their persistent resiliency and drive to succeed,” stated Sarah Cowdell, assistant director of student success for First Year Experience and Pioneer Scholars.

The second cohort of nine Pioneer Scholars became Warriors in fall 2020. These accomplished students, whose average high school GPA was 3.6, chose Merrimack over impressive offers of admission from the University of Pennsylvania and Syracuse University, as well as Bates, Connecticut and Colby colleges.

The support programs put in place to guide these students on their Merrimack journey have been effective and, this semester, particularly creative. In one example, Cowdell put together a scavenger hunt to help first-year Pioneer Scholars become familiar with various campus resources. At the same time, the returning sophomore class of Pioneer Scholars served as mentors for the novices, a first step in building camaraderie and community between the groups.

In addition, the success of the inaugural — and now second — class of Pioneer Scholars would not have been possible without the investment of donors who have generously embraced and supported this endeavor.

Marques Torbert, a member of Merrimack’s Board of Trustees, said recently, “My wife Alli and I have chosen to invest our time, money and resources in the cause of the Pioneer Scholars program because any school in the world would be thrilled to have these gifted students as a part of the community. This program expands on Merrimack’s core values and mission and will drastically change the trajectory of life for so many deserving students,” he concluded.

Merrimack has established a fundraising priority to create a permanent $20 million endowment to fully support 40 Pioneer Scholars on campus into the future.

“These students not only bring their passion, talents and perspective to our community, they also bring pride to their hometown and serve as role models for the youth in Lawrence. Nothing could be more important and more in keeping with Merrimack’s Augustinian values,” concluded President Hopey. 

Learn More About the Pioneer Scholars Program