LEWISBURG, Pa. - After graduating third in his high school class in 2006, Oscar Beteta was accepted to two state universities, but he couldn't afford the tuition.
He decided to pursue other opportunities and qualified for an honors program scholarship at Montgomery County Community College. But he worried that his options for continuing his education after that would be limited.
During his second semester there, Beteta learned about the Bucknell Community College Scholars Program, which awards need-based, full-tuition scholarships to exceptional students at two-year partner institutions, including MCCC. Beteta was accepted into a summer transitional program and, in 2008, was admitted to Bucknell.
"Just coming here was a door opening," Beteta said. "I knew after MontCo, I would face financial challenges to continue my education. Knowing I was coming to Bucknell and a large part of my expenses would be paid, that was just incredible."
Graduating with honors Beteta, 23, will graduate from Bucknell May 22 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and as a member of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honors society. Four years ago, he never imagined he would have the opportunities he has today. In mid-June, he will begin a three-year rotational program as a maintenance engineer with Allentown-based Air Products and Chemicals Inc., working in its liquid nitrogen operations. Shortly after that, he will close on a house for his mother in Blue Bell, Pa.
"It's always been a dream of hers, and my dream was to see her in her own house," Beteta said. "My idea is that I will help her as much as I can to pay for the house, so that when I move out she will not have to worry."
As a child in Peru, Beteta remembers his mother talking about the day when she would own her own home. At age 9, after his dad lost his job in the fishing industry and his family moved to the United States to pursue work opportunities, that dream seemed more distant.
After completing an internship at Air Products last summer, however, Beteta wondered if he might make his mom's dream come true. He contacted a local bank and was approved for a loan to buy a single-family, split-level home. He plans to rent a room in Allentown and stay at the house in Blue Bell on the weekends. His mom will live there full-time.
Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Beteta is one of 88 community college transfer students who have enrolled at Bucknell since 2007. Bucknell is among eight national institutions that have partnered with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation to provide such opportunities to high-achieving students who otherwise would not be able to attend a private liberal arts university like Bucknell. Bucknell is partners in the program with five community colleges in Pennsylvania and Maryland
The Cooke Foundation has contributed about $222,000 a year during the past three years for start-up and support costs. Bucknell, in turn, has committed more than $2 million in need-based scholarships, said Mark Davies, Bucknell's assistant vice president for enrollment management.
Bucknell in the past did not target transfer students, largely because the University has a high retention rate and there were not a lot of enrollment opportunities available, Davies said. The community college scholars program offered an opportunity to diversify the student body. The students tend to be older than the average Bucknell student and have different life experiences. They also have a strong sense of purpose, determination and appreciation for the educational opportunity that many never thought possible.
Davies said the partnership has been mutually beneficial for Bucknell and the community college scholars.
"Through working with the community college partners and their students, we have discovered that very capable individuals have taken alternate routes to achieve at the highest level," he said. "Bucknell is so fortunate to have so many students interested in being part of our community."
Leadership training In addition to his academic preparation, Beteta developed leadership skills at Bucknell. He worked 10 hours a week in the campus multicultural center and was a Together Everyone Achieves More (T.E.A.M.) peer mentor. He helped organize a chapter of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, which seeks to retain and motivate Hispanic students pursuing science and mathematics degrees. He also was part of the Organization for Hispanic and Latin-American Students and the Latino Dance Corner.
Beteta's mother is following his example. She recently graduated from cosmetology school and has passed her state board exams with high achievements. She also is determined to enroll at MCCC to further pursue her education, Beteta said. Eventually, she would like to start her own business.
"Everything," he said, "has just fallen into place."
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