2022 Year in Review • Grantee Profile

Clark Opportunity Transfer Scholars: Future Engineering Leaders at UMD

James Reid’s grandfather, Richard Calhoun, was a mason for the Clark Construction Group. He woke every day at 2 a.m. to go to work to provide for his family. When he died, the Clark family contacted Calhoun’s family to express their deepest condolences for the family’s loss. Richard was more than an employee; he was a member of the Clark community.

Today, James is a senior at the University of Maryland (UMD) A. James Clark School of Engineering and a recipient of the Clark Opportunity Transfer Scholarship (COTS), which provides financial aid and mentorship to select engineering students transferring to UMD from any Maryland community college. “I am super thankful because I wound up getting a scholarship for civil engineering from the same company that my grandfather worked for,” said Reid, who embodies the same hard work ethic as his grandfather and is equally determined to contribute to his family.

One of six siblings, Reid said the program has opened academic and other opportunities at UMD without creating financial stress. “It was my hope and my ambition to at least get a scholarship so I didn’t have to have that burden on my parents or get into any debt. So, by the grace of God, we were able to get the COTS Scholarship,” said Reid, who was homeschooled and began taking courses at Prince George’s Community College while finishing his high school studies.

COTS is part of Building Together, the Clark Foundation’s $219.5 million investment in the University of Maryland announced in October 2017. COTS offers a need-based scholarship for tuition and fees for at least four semesters of study, along with comprehensive academic, career, and research support. The program enrolls approximately 20 new transfer students each year. Through COTS, the Foundation fulfills Mr. Clark’s desire to provide opportunities for promising engineering students. After he graduated from UMD on a scholarship, Mr. Clark viewed education as the cornerstone of his success.

Michael Robinson, recruitment coordinator for UMD’s Clark Foundation scholarship programs, is regularly in touch with Maryland’s 16 community colleges and attends events at those schools for students seeking to transfer to four-year undergraduate programs. “Once they get the award and then they come in, that’s when we really get to see the excitement in their faces. What was their reaction when they got it? Some of them broke down and cried or the first person they called was their mom or dad, and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ Yeah, it’s really fun,” Robinson said.

Robinson and Erin Wessell, director of recruitment and outreach programs, said that the COTS students are “highly motivated.” They graduate with a B.S. in an average of 4.5 years, quicker than the average six years in which community college transfer students complete their degree.

Robinson and Wessell keep in close contact with enrolled transfer scholars. “We have an open-door policy with our students. We require them to come in at least once during the semester just to give us an idea of how things are going academically, socially, mentally,” Robinson said. “If they mention that they’re not doing so well, we may point them in the direction of some resources on campus. We’re definitely in their corner as a resource as well. We have wraparound services for them.”

They bring students together for gatherings of all Clark scholarship recipients as well as convene students majoring in the same area of engineering. Reid said the COTS staff support has eased his path throughout his time at UMD. “Our advisors are always checking up on us, they’re always emailing us, they’re always giving us different avenues to meet with them. And they also provide different events that we can attend. Without their guidance, it would have added to the level of difficulty in dealing with a space that you’re unaware of or you don’t know how to navigate,” Reid said.

Reid and his peers in the COTS program epitomize Mr. Clark’s legacy of opening doors for students who just need someone to believe in them so they can thrive in a challenging engineering program. “COTS students often say, ‘I’m a really hard worker. I’m a really good student. I’ve been a really good student for a long time, and you noticed that,’ and they appreciate that we noticed that, and they appreciate that this scholarship recognizes that they have been such a strong student,” Wessell said. “They’re just so proud to get this scholarship that they really want to make the donors proud. They’re thrilled about that.”