Crowdfunded 'grit' scholarship rewards upperclassmen entering the Honors College

September 25, 2013

Tom Sharbaugh has never met Penn State junior Jacquelyn Jackowski, but she is exactly the kind of student he had in mind when he decided to spearhead the Schreyer Honors College Gateway Scholars Program Scholarship.

The scholarship, being established through an innovative crowdfunding campaign, is to be awarded to high-achieving Penn State students who enter the Schreyer Honors College (SHÇ) through what’s called the Gateway, the admission process for sophomores or juniors to join the SHC. The scholarship fund also stipulates that recipients should be first-generation college students and that they have demonstrated an ability to overcome financial difficulties or other obstacles in pursuing their education.

Jackowski, who is entering the honors college this fall, spent her first two years at Penn State Hazleton, earning a 3.88 GPA while working on average 20 to 25 hours a week as a pharmacy technician at a local CVS drugstore. She plans on continuing her job at a CVS location in downtown State College, Pa.

“I work a lot,” said Jackowski, who is from Jim Thorpe, Pa. “I’ve been working at CVS since I was 17. I try to work as much as I possibly can. Work is definitely necessary to pay rent. When I’m not working or I’m not studying or I’m not in class, I feel like I’m wasting time.”

That type of can-do work ethic is what Sharbaugh calls “grit.”

Sharbaugh was first introduced to the idea that something other than intellect could determine a student’s success when he heard about First Scholars, a first-generational college student scholarship program funded by the Suder Foundation.

“One of the parts of the eligibility for the program is to take an assessment test, which is called the Students Strengths Inventory,” said Sharbaugh, a 1973 Penn State business graduate who serves on the Schreyer Honors College’s External Advisory Board. “What they were looking for are students who didn’t just have academic capability but also had determination to go forward and succeed.”

Sharbaugh readily admits his interest was further influenced by reading the New York Times best-seller “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” and that the book introduced him to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth, a leading researcher who has identified grit as a predictor of success.

“The whole premise of the research that Dr. Duckworth and others have been doing is that this character trait she calls ‘grit’ is actually a better predictor of academic success than IQ,” Sharbaugh said. “It really flies in the face of how most universities look principally at SAT scores.”

Sharbaugh said that Schreyer Scholars who enter the college through the Gateway have proven they have the intellectual capacity to meet the honors college’s requirements. More importantly, Sharbaugh said, many of the Gateway entrants demonstrate perseverance, earning their way into the honors college on the basis of their performance at Penn State after having not been admitted when they applied as high school seniors.

“This is clearly a determined group because many of them applied the first time around and didn’t make it in,” Sharbaugh said.

Until now, only Schreyer Scholars who entered the college at the start of their freshmen year receive what is called the Academic Excellence Scholarship, a $4,000 annual award renewable for up to four years. This new scholarship will provide $5,000 annual scholarships.

A look at Gateway entrants for the 2012-13 academic year showed that about 33 percent of those incoming upperclass Schreyer Scholars were first-generation college students and that more than 85 percent of them would meet the scholarship criteria in terms of financial need.

“I know there is still a substantial number of students in every entering class who are the first in their family to go to college. At the end of the day, the mission of the land grant university is to make sure those people have a place to go to school,” Sharbaugh said. “Every time I go to the Creamery, I look at those kids working behind the counter and think ‘those are gritty kids,’ and every time I’ve stayed at a University hotel and some kid is serving me breakfast at 6 a.m., I think ‘this is a good kid.’ I want the kid who had to work at McDonald’s. I want the kid who succeeded even though they lost a parent. I want to make sure those kids aren’t forgotten.”

That same type of tenacity could apply to Sharbaugh’s approach to funding the Gateway scholarship.

Sharbaugh has established it as a crowdfunding campaign, seeking support of $25,000 from many contributors through social media. Sharbaugh points to the success of the Microfinance Match Fund campaign as a model for this effort. Launched in 2011 by Sharbaugh and his wife, Kristin Hayes, that campaign raised money to offer low-interest loans to undergraduates facing unexpected financial hardship. Sharbaugh and Hayes donated $100,000, providing a 2:1 match for gifts to the fund.

This time, the couple is providing a 4:1 match for contributions to the scholarship. Until June 30, 2014, for every dollar raised up to $25,000, the couple will contribute four more dollars toward the scholarship fund. They have kicked off the scholarship fund with a $50,000 gift. The combined total support for the scholarship program at $175,000 would provide 35 scholarships over several years.

To date, nearly $4,300 has been pledged toward the campaign.

“Tom and Kristin have a heart for philanthropy that can transform people’s lives and open up so many possibilities,” said Christian M. M. Brady, dean of the Schreyer Honors College. “They see this scholarship as a means of encouraging those who are doing all the right things to be successful in achieving honors at Penn State through the Schreyer Honors College.”

This fall, 10 Gateway scholarships have been awarded, and Jacquelyn Jackowski said she appreciates being one of the first recipients.

“I definitely want to set up a better path for myself and my family,” said Jackowski, who hopes her criminology major will prepare her to join a police force and eventually become a detective. “This scholarship means a lot to me because it’s great that students who are coming in as a Gateway and who are working and going to school are being recognized.

“I think from everything I’ve been through with work and family it’s making me able to juggle things and be a responsible person. I definitely want to challenge myself. I know that I’m capable. I’m just going to put myself out there and push myself even more.”

The Schreyer Honors College Gateway Scholars Program Scholarship will help the Schreyer Honors College achieve the goals of For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. This University-wide effort is directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The University is engaging Penn State’s alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality. The For the Future campaign is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State’s history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014.

For more information about the Schreyer Honors College Gateway Scholars Scholarship Fund, visit



Last Updated January 10, 2014