Scholarships Help Two First-Gen Students

Nov 22, 2021

JeKai King and Mara Proie make the most of full-tuition scholarships and other campus life opportunities.

  • - JeKai King

  • - Mara Proie

In the fall semester, Mara Proie was, seemingly, everywhere.

There she was at Menallen Elementary School, volunteering with a Cal U contingent of childhood education majors for a community literacy night event.

There she was as vice president of the Cal U TRIO Club, participating in a national celebration of first-generation college students.

There she was as secretary of the Kappa Delta Pi education honor society, volunteering with her peers to make bookmarks for children in the Uniontown Area School District.

Her contributions to the community and to campus life flow from a decision to attend Cal U. And for Proie, a full-tuition opportunity to be a Rutledge Scholar made that easy.

“It meant everything to me to receive that scholarship; it became the deciding factor,” said Proie, a sophomore from Pittsburgh, Pa.

Ten Rutledge Scholars are chosen each year to attend Cal U for free. The program for early childhood education majors was established by Karen and Tom Rutledge as part of the Rutledge Institute for Early Childhood Education.

“I’m a first-generation student, but also from a lower-income family,” Proie said. “I took honors classes in high school and had a job, but I didn’t really know how I was going to pay for school.

“This was a high-stakes, full-ride scholarship! I watched so many YouTube videos on interview etiquette so I’d be prepared for the application process. I really put all my eggs in this basket because it meant so much to me.”

It's a similar story for junior JeKai King, also a first-generation student.

“I got the Board of Governors scholarship, and if it weren’t for that scholarship, I genuinely would not have gone to school,” he said.

The full-tuition merit scholarship is renewable for up to eight consecutive semester for full-time, degree-seeking students. 

King, who is studying geology, also found support as a McKeesport High School student through TRIO, federally funded student service programs that help students progress from middle school to postbaccalaureate programs.

“TRIO was a good thing,” he said, remembering help with resume-building, a variety of college visits, assistance with test preparation and college essays, and more.

“But I still didn’t know if I could afford college. Would the cost be worth it?” he said. “When I got the BOG scholarship, that was the cherry on top. I thought, ‘If this isn’t a sign to go to college, I don’t know what is.’”

He is active with the TRIO Club at Cal U.

“It’s like having a college family,” he said of the staff in the Department of TRIO and Academic Services. “I transferred to Cal U this fall, so it was like freshmen year all over again. But they introduced me to people in marching band and BSU so I can be involved in campus life.”

King is 100% in love with geology and is considering a career in geothermal energy with, maybe, a job as a college professor down the line.

His “Geology King” mask says it all.

“I want to be the main guy when it comes to geology. When anyone mentions a rock, I want them to think of me as someone who knows about it.”