Merrimack College will expand its James W. O’Brien Foundation Scholarship program, thanks to a gift of $1.2 million, which will fully fund high-achieving, low-income scholars from Lynn, Massachusetts. Working alongside the leadership of both Lynn English and St. Mary’s High Schools, the Merrimack Office of Admissions will identify and select candidates this spring. The program will also continue to support 10 currently enrolled O’Brien Scholars.
“We are so appreciative and grateful for the generosity of the O’Brien Foundation and are thrilled with the prospect of helping more deserving young adults in Massachusetts,” said Christopher E. Hopey, Ph.D., president. “This new scholarship program expands Merrimack and the James W. O’Brien Foundation’s deep commitment to excellent, affordable higher education to students who otherwise might not attend college. We can’t wait for the newest members of our community to join us and to witness their growth personally and academically as they advance to earning their degree.”
Beginning in the fall of 2021, the program will provide full tuition, room and board for residential O’Brien Scholars over five years. These students will join an existing cohort of Pioneer Scholars from Abbott Lawrence Academy, bringing together students with similar life experiences and goals. Under the umbrella of the already robust and state-acclaimed Pioneer Scholars Program, O’Brien Scholars will receive academic support services already developed to help them better adjust to campus life and excel in the classroom. Such services include cohort-specific classes, assistance with family finances and engagement with the Academic Success Center.
The goal of expanding the O’Brien Scholarship from a partial scholarship program to a full scholarship and residential program is to provide access and life-changing opportunities to high achieving students with the greatest need, said Darren Conine, vice president for enrollment and dean of admission. These students have proven in high school that they can perform in a rigorous academic environment but encounter other obstacles that could hinder them from pursuing a higher education experience and a degree.
“For low-income students growing up in urban areas, higher education is increasingly seen as prohibitively expensive and a poor investment of time and money, even if the student is academically gifted,” he said. “For many students at Lynn English and St. Mary’s High Schools, affordability and return on investment are indeed the key issues influencing their decision not to attend college.”
Research shows that students without financial barriers are more likely to enroll in college, succeed academically and graduate on time. Conversely, removing those financial barriers and providing additional support to students while they study on campus has proven to be an effective strategy providing them a viable, affordable pathway to college.
To qualify, Lynn students must apply to Merrimack College, submit a FAFSA application demonstrating their financial need, meet with a committee comprised of members of the Merrimack community and take part in a 30-minute interview.
The O’Brien Foundation is the legacy of Lynn businessman James W. O’Brien, who was orphaned at 13, but later achieved financial success in the leather industry. Mr. O’Brien is Merrimack’s largest benefactor, having contributed more than $13 million in student scholarships and other initiatives for more than 40 years. In 2012, the O’ Brien Foundation donated $1 million to create the O’Brien Center for Career Development, which provides real-world experiential learning opportunities and career services to all students. One of Merrimack’s residence halls, O’Brien Hall, is named in his honor. Mr. O’Brien died in 1979 and received an honorary degree from Merrimack posthumously, in 2011.