Merit-based program enriches talent and engagement at Trinity
By Maura King Scully
You could say that Sonjah Dessalines ’22 has taken Trinity by storm. In just her first year, she served as a representative for the Trinity College Black Women’s Organization. She served on the Black History Month committee. She was selected for the Catalyst Leadership Corps, which combines leadership training with a paid internship in the city of Hartford. She also interned with the admissions office as part of the Multicultural Recruitment Team.
“I have a lot in store for Trinity,” Dessalines says. “I look forward to sharing my talents while completing my bachelor’s degree in economics.”
Dessalines is the recipient of an 1823 Scholarship, a merit-based program for academically talented students who also exhibit extraordinary character. Named for the year the college was founded, it offers special opportunities for students to make the most of their Trinity experience. As of spring 2019, 135 students are 1823 Scholars. In addition to scholarship funding, these students are invited to events with President Joanne Berger-Sweeney, enjoy select networking opportunities with alumni, and gain access to paid internships in Hartford and individual career and graduate school counseling sessions.
The 1823 Scholarship is the brainchild of Vice President for Enrollment and Student Success Angel Pérez, who came to the college in 2015. “From my first days at Trinity, I told our admissions team that we were not just looking for more applications but for the right applications,” he notes. “We’ve been working to foster a genuine interest in Trinity among students who understand what is special about studying the liberal arts in an urban setting.” The program is definitely helping to attract these students. “We’re admitting more students who want to be here and who possess the characteristics that predict success in college: grit, persistence, curiosity, and a love of learning.”
That includes students such as Marlén Miranda ’20, who founded Girls 4 Change while she was in high school in San Diego, California. “The group empowers young Latina women to pursue higher education and leadership positions,” Miranda explains. At Trinity, she mentors first-generation college students and serves on an advisory board that offers them support. “Last year, I lived in a first-year dorm to provide support for first-year students who come from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds,” she says. Miranda also is part of P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Respect for Inclusive Diversity in Education).
Junior year finds Miranda abroad. “The first semester, I was with the School for International Training, where I was invited to join the honors program. I visited Chile, Nepal, and Jordan, conducting a research project on gender-based violence,” she says. Miranda, also a George M. Ferris Scholar, stayed in Spain for the spring semester, studying at Trinity’s program at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona.
LIVING UP TO ITS PROMISE
Now four years old, the 1823 Scholarship has made Trinity an attractive option, especially for students from middle-income families who may not qualify for financial aid but for whom college costs are a stretch financially.
Among them is Dessalines, who also is a Robert W. Barrows Memorial Scholar. “The support from Trinity helped me venture out of my comfort zone,” says the native of Conyers, Georgia. “And once I got to campus, the Multicultural Affairs Office and the Center for Student Success helped me in getting comfortable at Trinity.”
For Fernandez Family Bantam Bold 1823 Scholar Jack Carter ’21, one visit was all it took for him to decide on Trinity. “I wasn’t interested initially in attending a small college. I had been looking at big universities,” says Carter, of Middleton, Massachusetts. “Then I visited Trinity and changed my mind. I felt like I could be at home at Trinity.”
And Carter has made himself quite at home. He is the community service chair for Trinity’s chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity, where he coordinates activities including Halloween on Vernon, a trick-or-treat event for area youth; a dance-a-thon for Connecticut Children’s Medical Center; and a city cleanup for KNOX, an environmental group based in Hartford. Outside of his fraternity, Carter is a barista at Peter B’s, plays club basketball, and has applied to be an orientation leader. “One of the best things I did was get involved,” he reflects. “The more involved you are, the better your experience. I want to share that insight with first-year students.”
Pérez thought the 1823 Scholarship program would be successful, but even he has been surprised by just how successful. “The first year we offered the scholarship, I thought it would be great if we could attract 20 students with it. My jaw dropped when 50 of them accepted our offer of admission,” Pérez notes. “It’s also geographically diversified our student body. And the program has lived up to its promise for engagement: 1823 Scholars are much more engaged with Trinity and Hartford.” He adds that they are overrepresented in community-based learning courses and in the Catalyst Leadership Corps.
The 1823 Scholarship is a prime example of the extraordinary difference that scholarships can make. Securing such support is a key source of daily inspiration for Vice President for College Advancement Michael Casey. “Raising money for financial aid is a key objective for the college and our office,” he says. “The 1823 Scholarship is part of a larger strategy to make Trinity more accessible and more appealing to top students from all socioeconomic backgrounds.”
As the college’s chief fundraiser, Casey may want to check back in with Sonjah Dessalines in a few years. “At Trinity, they stress that with a liberal arts education, it doesn’t matter what you major in,” she says. “It’s what you learn and the work you put in that propels you to your next step in life. My ambition is to open a restaurant,” she adds before calling out a devoted 1980 Trinity graduate. “I know I will and eventually become Trinity’s next Danny Meyer.”