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LEWISBURG, Pa. - Karel Parve was practicing with the Estonian target shooting team in 2004 when he learned about Bucknell University.
One of his teammates, Kristina Kask, Class of '09, was admitted to Garrett College, a small community college in Maryland that has a partnership with Bucknell through the Virginia-based Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. She planned to pursue her associate's degree at Garrett then transfer to Bucknell.
Two years later, Kask was accepted into the Bucknell Community College Scholars program and on her way to a four-year degree at one of the most selective liberal arts universities in the United States.
"Once she was accepted to Bucknell, that sealed the deal for me," said Parve, now 21. He became determined to follow a similar path. "I knew the liberal arts education in the United States would be so much more beneficial to me than college in Estonia because of all the different aspects of it. Krista told me about her interactions with her teachers at Bucknell, and I knew that it would be good for me."
Parve was accepted to Garrett, and in 2009 he completed a six-week summer program at Bucknell in preparation for the transfer program. This fall, he was among 17 community college transfer students to become part of Bucknell's Class of 2012 through the program.
Since the program began in 2007, 83 community college scholars have come to Bucknell, each following an unusual path. Some, like Parve, have moved to the United States from Eastern Europe for education and work opportunities. Others have come from the suburbs of Philadelphia or rural Pennsylvania.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation has given Bucknell about $800,000 during the past four years to start up and support the program, including full-tuition scholarships. The foundation chose Bucknell in 2006 as one of eight highly selective universities to be part of the community college transfer initiative. Students in the Bucknell program are recruited from five partner institutions: Community College of Philadelphia, Garrett College in Maryland, Harrisburg Area Community College, Lehigh Carbon Community College, and Montgomery County Community College near Philadelphia.
In addition to demonstrating leadership skills and meeting income requirements, the students must have a high grade-point average and plan to earn an associate's degree before transferring.
Bucknell has committed more than $4 million in scholarships for the program, said Mark Davies, assistant vice president for enrollment management. As much as the community college scholars take from their experiences at Bucknell, they have given back to the campus, Davies said.
"We got into this program with the intent and curiosity of knowing there are some great students out there who were not on our radar screen," he said. "Students discover community college either for financial reasons or later in life as they discover the possibility for learning. It adds in so many different ways I don't think we anticipated. This group is older, more mature, more focused and brings life experiences with them."
A recent report released by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation showed that program participants not only achieve academic success but also become student leaders after transferring from community colleges to the highly selective universities. (The report, "Partnerships That Promote Success: The Evaluation of the Community College Transfer Initiative," is available on the foundation website, www.jkcf.org.)
Bucknell in the past has not targeted transfer students, largely because the University has a high retention rate, Davies said. The foundation's community college grant program offered Bucknell an opportunity to be part of a national effort to bring new perspectives to campus, notably from students often older and with a wider range of experiences than typical undergraduates. The transfer students tend to have a strong sense of purpose, determination and appreciation for their education, Davies said.
Professor of Psychology Joel Wade, who serves as the academic director of the summer program that helps prepare community college scholars to transfer to Bucknell and the other four-year institutions, said the students tend to be exceptionally motivated and are "eager to learn and excel."
"For some of them, the idea of going to a university is a new thing," Wade said. "For many of them, this is the greatest Christmas gift they can get. They are extraordinarily motivated and add something to the classes that is hard to describe. They see this as an opportunity they are really going to take advantage of because they have more direct ideas of what they want to do and why they want to do it."
Danielle Renno, a psychology major who transferred from Harrisburg Area Community College, dropped out of high school, joined the U.S. Army and worked in finance before returning to school in 2008. Now 25, Renno faces a new challenge as a full-time student and mother of two children ages 4 and 7. But she is more determined than ever to pursue her bachelor's degree and ultimately become a psychiatrist.
"It's like a dream come true for all of us," Renno said. "My family moved a lot and I wasn't encouraged to stay in school. College wasn't even much of an option. But I really want to provide for our kids and give them what we never had. I want them to see you can achieve."
Benjamin Schrock, a mechanical engineering major, transferred to Bucknell from Lehigh-Carbon Community College. Schrock, 27, spent four years in the U.S. Marines and completed two tours of duty in Iraq before he decided to go back to school. He also worked on performance-enhancing parts for two-stroke engines at an engineering firm one summer and could have had a full-time job there.
"I had a really good job," he said. "I just felt doing it wasn't challenging me enough. When I got out of high school, I did one semester of college and I got fine grades, but I wanted to join the Marines. Ultimately the Marines was fun, but it's a job you do if you are a single individual. It is really hard for families. I was single, but I realized those things. I realized I'd like to get out and look for a job and support a family. The smaller picture is I was ready for something new."
Schrock's college advisors pointed him in the direction of Bucknell, he said. When Davies visited campus, he became more interested.
"This opportunity is a little too good to be true," he said. "I feel extremely lucky, and I plan to make the best of it."
Parve is the third Estonian student and the third champion target shooter to come to Bucknell through the Jack Kent Cooke partnership. In addition to Kask, Krista Joosep, Class of '10, also transferred from Garrett College. She is pursuing a master's degree in international affairs at the Graduate Institute in Geneva.
Parve, who is majoring in international relations with a concentration in European politics, qualified to represent Estonia as a target shooter in the 2008 Olympics, but he later dislocated his finger playing volleyball and was no longer able to compete. Even before his injury, however, Parve was determined to pursue his education in the United States.
"I still cannot believe I'm here," he said. "It's mind-baffling to think that an institution thousands of miles away will give you the chance to apply and get the resources for a full scholarship. It's everything I feel a higher education experience should be about."
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