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Omaha Magazine

The Students We Have Been Waiting For

Sep 29, 2022 04:34PM ● By Jeff Lacey
Greyson Scott headshot

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

Grayson Stanton is doing work that makes a difference.  

Last year, Stanton, a computer engineer, was part of a team of three University of Nebraska at Omaha students who worked with University of Nebraska Medical Center faculty on an app that allowed them to monitor patients with COVID. He also developed app prototypes for UNO’s Maverick Food Pantry and the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Currently, his computer company, NebDev, is working with UNMC to develop an app that helps rheumatoid arthritis patients track the severity of their pain, with the goal of testing the efficacy of setting goals for arthritis treatment over time. 

He’s also taught courses on ionic and angular computer programming frameworks.

Stanton is clearly academically gifted, and highly motivated: he scored a 34 on the ACT, and graduated first in his class at Papillion South High School. But this isn’t a story about Grayson Stanton: it is a story about the opportunity he, and many others, have been given by the Scott Scholars program, one of the most potent and (according to the UNO website) prestigious scholarships offered by the Nebraska University System. This scholarship, funded by the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, is comprehensive, and includes not only tuition, room, and board,  but a communal housing component (many of the Scott Scholars live together in Scott Hall in order to foster community and idea exchange), leadership development training, and individual attention to students’ personal and professional aspirations. Most importantly, the idea behind the Scott Scholars program is to not simply reward academically gifted students, but to help them foster their humanity. One of the essential components of the program is the idea of encouraging students like Grayson to give back to the community.

Dr. Laura Miller, the director of education for the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, said that, from the program’s inception in the late 1990s, there has always been an emphasis on not only academic and professional accomplishment, but on responding to grace, with grace. “The energy and spirit of the program has always been true to the ideas of Walter Scott Jr. himself,” Dr. Miller explained (Scott Jr. passed away last year). “He obviously left a tremendous legacy, and he always challenged the Scott Scholars to give back. ‘I hope you are all tremendously successful,’ he’d urge them, ‘but be sure to give back in a meaningful way. You are part of a society you’ve all benefited from, and it is important to show thanks through actions.'” 

Like Scott Jr. himself, the program also values problem solving.  Four years ago, those in charge of the $2 million program revised its values. “There was a major shift to not have the scholarship be so transactional,” Dr. Miller explained. “We decided we needed more high-quality programming, and an emphasis on problem solving and cross-curricular learning. We also decided to focus on Nebraska students, and to expand the scholarship to include all STEM majors at that time. Before, we focused only on engineering and technology majors.” Currently, the program is open exclusively to Nebraska students, and welcomes those interested in any aspect of STEM studies.

This flexibility and willingness to allow great students to follow their instincts has paid off for students like Grace Maline.  Maline graduated from Oakland-Craig Jr.-Sr. High School in 2017, and from UNO in 2021, with a degree in bioinformatics. Maline will attend medical school this fall. While the program gave her access to amazing opportunities (she spent a summer at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute in Frederick, Maryland), Maline said the opportunities of being in such an amazing community were the most valuable part of the program. “The biggest thing I received was knowing the other people in my class. I was paired up with another pre-med student, and we really made each other better.  It was really nice having a community of people encouraging you.” Maline said that the scholarship allowed her to volunteer with Nebraska Medicine during her undergraduate experience as well.

Harnoor Singh, director of student development Scott Scholars, couldn’t be more excited about the program. Singh described his job as a ‘once in a lifetime role.’ 

“It’s amazing when you bring together three critical ingredients like this: an important philanthropy; an open, flexible, innovative university; and high-achieving students who want to be whole people,” Singh explained. “These are the young people we’ve been waiting for—community focused individuals. I am lucky to be in their presence.”

According to Dr. Jeff Gold, the chief academic officer of the University of Nebraska System, the Scott Scholars program provides an ‘endless amount of leadership development,’ and is ‘a model for some of the very best learning’ the University system has to offer. Gold is especially grateful that the program is a tool in the fight for talent retention in Nebraska. “These are students that could continue education anywhere in the country or even the world,” Gold said. “This program provides some glue to keep them in Nebraska, and is a tremendous piece of economic development in that way. What the Scott Foundation adds is the critically important residential living experience and counseling.”

Gold isn’t just a fan.  He has degree in engineering, is a trained surgeon, has decades of leadership experience in higher education, and recently taught a leadership course for the program—a two-hour seminar where students explored questions about personal identity and leadership. 

Each year, 35 Scott Scholars are not only selected on the basis of academic acheivement, but for demonstable community and humanitarian efforts. Singh explained, “There have been outstanding students on paper who have been successful in the classroom, but we really want those who have a propensity toward improving the human condition. We look at demonstrated ability to serve others and work in teams.” The application process is rigorous. Students often spend the entire day interviewing, speaking to students, faculty, and program directors, in addition to filing the requisite paperwork and essays. Perhaps one of the application questions that most accurately reflects what the program is looking for is: “In the Scott Scholars program, we look for students who can work in interdisciplinary teams to solve the most pressing challenges facing humanity. Describe one way in which you have worked collaboratively to positively impact a community, initiative or organization.” 

The program also wants to listen. For example, just this last summer, a student in the program was asked about people who had been inspirational to them in high school, and the student gave a glowing recommendation about someone they held as an exemplary student and human being. 

It was someone the Scott Scholar program had waitlisted. 

“This person was next up,” Singh said. “We thought, oh man, we have to fix this. And based on that recommendation, we found support and funding for that one additional student.”

The students interviewed couldn’t be more grateful for what the program has offered them. Stanton explained, “It opened up whole new ideas for me, and it also helped make college more obtainable, because I was the youngest of four kids.” 

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This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    


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