Normally, the student transition from high school senior to college freshman means adjusting to a faster pace, a deeper curriculum and ramped-up expectations. Not so much for Korey Jasper, who experienced all those things as a 2010 graduate of Rufus King International Baccalaureate High School in Milwaukee.
“They have high standards; they throw everything at you,” says Jasper, now a UW-Madison sophomore preparing to major in chemical and biological engineering. “Their main goal is to have you go to college and not be overwhelmed by the transition. They try to overwhelm you while you’re there.”
Jasper is one of five recipients of $5,000 annual scholarships from alumnus Rod Hassett, who created the program in 2007 to encourage more Milwaukee students to pursue engineering at UW-Madison. Rufus King, which adopted the rigorous international baccalaureate model in 1979, is recognized as one of the top high schools in the nation and routinely sends more than 95 percent of its graduates to college.
Jasper chose UW-Madison engineering over offers from Notre Dame, Minnesota, the Illinois Institute of Technology and others, thanks to the scholarship and the college’s reputation. He also became very familiar with UW-Madison as a PEOPLE scholar and a participant in the Engineering Summer Program. “I was always about math and science and ‘put this problem in front of me and I’ll figure it out,’” he says. “Engineering allows me in a professional setting to solve problems with the things I learn in school.”
Jasper says he was excited beyond belief to receive the scholarship, noting that he has four siblings at or near college age. “It was a relief to know I could get some financial help and release some of the strain off me and my mom.”
Hassett is equally excited about his scholarship, both as a champion of diversity in engineering and as an alumnus of Rufus King. Hassett graduated from King in 1958, and jokes about whether he would have had the chops to get accepted to UW-Madison under today’s high standards. “As an alum, I felt I could be a natural conduit for this,” says Hassett, a retired vice president at Strand Associates in Madison and an adjunct civil engineering professor at UW-Madison since 2003. “One of the things I’m proudest about is I now have five kids in the program. It’s a body of work we have developed now.”
In addition to Jasper, Hassett scholars include Cory Jackson (freshman), Nehemia Edwards (junior), Evan Lewis (senior) and Matt King (fifth-year senior). King will become the scholarship’s first engineering graduate in May 2012, with a dual bachelor’s and master’s degree in nuclear engineering.
Hassett says he was moved to work with the high school after several years of team-teaching the civil engineering capstone course and seeing few if any targeted minorities in his class. He was further concerned about how few King students were coming to UW-Madison, especially since most of the nation’s other premier universities successfully recruit there.
He and other department leaders initially got a cold reception from King guidance counselors, who did not feel UW-Madison was as interested in or committed to their students as other schools were. But the relationship is very strong today, with the engineering Diversity Affairs Office (DAO) now having an active presence at King. “Now I tell my current scholars, ‘You are going to be the ambassadors
moving forward. When you graduate from this program, you have a responsibility to go back to high school and talk about it,’” Hassett says.
The scholarship is built as a partnership between Hassett and the College of Engineering, with Hassett paying for the first two years and the college funding the second two years (and a fifth year if necessary). The program is designed not only to enroll African-American engineers, but to ensure they graduate.
Molly Reinhard, assistant director for engineering pre-college and outreach programs in DAO, says the scholarship has helped the college build a strong relationship with King students and staff.
“One can immediately sense Rod’s commitment to student success and passion for enhancing access to higher education,” she says. “The Rod Hassett Engineering Scholarship provides much more than financial assistance. Rod serves as an advocate and mentor throughout students’ undergraduate years.”