‘I definitely didn’t think I was going to get this much’: Shawnee Mission students blown away by scholarship offers

Zalyia Carr center, congratulated a friend as she received her Scholarship Shawnee Mission offer letter at SM West Monday.

SM West senior Zalyia Carr has had a pretty remarkable high school career so far: Great grades, great test scores, great friends.

Consequently, she’s set her sights pretty high as far as college goes. Columbia University is at the top of her list — but she’s been eyeing local schools like the University of Kansas and UMKC as well.

So when she picked up her offer letter at the Scholarship Shawnee Mission presentation ceremony at SM West Monday afternoon, she was pretty thrilled. More than 20 regional colleges and universities wanted to offer her scholarships. All told, the offers totaled $1,248,862.

Program officer Ed Márquez (left) and Anthony Springfield of the Education Foundation board unveiled a banner showing the total amount of scholarships SM West students had garnered.

“I definitely didn’t think I was going to get this much,” she said moments after picking up the letter. “This, combined with stuff I already have, I could probably graduate debt free if I wanted to. Way to start off the week.”

Indeed, for the hundreds of graduating seniors at SM West and the district’s other four traditional high schools, Scholarship Shawnee Mission is providing a shot in the arm and some broadened horizons this fall. First announced at the Shawnee Mission Education Foundation’s annual breakfast in September, the program works to connect graduating high school seniors with scholarship offers before they’ve even started applying to colleges.

The Education Foundation hired full-time program officer Ed Márquez to get the operation off the ground ahead of the start of this school year, and is now in the process of revealing the offers universities have made to seniors. It held its first reveal event at SM East last week. Events at SM South and SM North are set for later this week, with SM Northwest students getting their letters next week.

Before students picked up their individual offer letters, members of the Education Foundation revealed to the whole group of SM West seniors that their class had garnered a total of $131,737,032 in scholarship offers, a fact that prompted a huge reaction from the crowd.

“The money is great, but what’s even greater is to see the surprise on their face, to see that the work they put in to get these scholarship opportunities [paid off],” Márquez said.

And while the scholarship offers are certainly a boon for students who were already planning to go to college, they’re also a factor in getting kids who may have been on the fence to think seriously about pursuing a degree.

“This is giving some of our families who aren’t even thinking college maybe, to say ‘Oh my gosh, the door could be opened for us, too,'” said SM West Principal Steve Loe.

That’s one of the factors that Carr said she liked most about the program. With Johnson County Community College and some smaller regional schools among those offering scholarship packages, students have a variety of options to consider.

“I like that it’s really open to all seniors,” she said. “People who didn’t think they could do it for money reasons, they know the schools want them and they could do it now.”