$700,000 Donation Funds 2 New Scholarships at University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

A pair of new scholarships, which are slated to be available next year, will target honors students in financial need at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville as well as those who are interested about furthering their education through international study.

Both scholarships were established with considerable contributions from donors.

According to the university, the Kristen Collier Wright International Education and Study Abroad Endowed Scholarship will help undergraduate and graduate students pursue international learning experiences as part of their college studies by covering costs such as program fees, tuition, and other travel-related expenses.

Kristen and Marshall Wright’s $500,000 gift, announced earlier this month, will establish the new endowed scholarship in the Graduate School and International Education. Kristen traveled to Japan and England as an undergraduate through the university’s study abroad program.

According to the university, the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation recently created the Merlin and Beverly Augustine Endowed Scholarship Fund with a $200,000 gift from the pair, demonstrating the foundation’s dedication to students and educational access. The endowment will provide financial aid to students in need from southeast Arkansas and Louisiana in chosen counties, particularly those entering the institution through the Honors College Path program.

Access to education is a critical component of the university’s land-grant mission, and the Wright scholarship will help to advance that priority “by breaking down financial barriers and ensuring that more students get to experience the life-changing opportunities studying abroad offers,” according to Chancellor Charles Robinson in a university news release. “We are deeply grateful to the Wrights for their generous gift and the lasting impact it will have on our students’ personal and professional growth.”

The Kristen Collier Wright Office of Study Abroad and International Exchange was established to honor the pair.

“My study abroad experiences changed my life by pushing me into completely unfamiliar surroundings where I learned about fascinating cultures, people, and history, and — just as importantly — learned the value of constant intellectual curiosity,” she stated in the statement. The college “shaped so much of my family’s story, and I want every student who attends to come away with the same kind of exceptional educational experience, deep friendships, and Razorback pride that my family has loved.”

She has a Bachelor of Arts in English with honors from the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences and a Juris Doctor from the School of Law, while her husband has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from the Sam M. Walton College of Business and a Juris Doctor from the School of Law, according to the university. She also serves as treasurer for the Arkansas Alumni Association’s National Board of Directors.

“Participating in study abroad and international education programs are often transformative for students,” said Scott Varady, vice chancellor for advancement, in a press release. “With a magnificent gift in honor of Kristen Collier Wright, the Wright family is helping increase access to — and affordability of — international education, especially for students facing financial challenges.”

The Augustine scholarship, which was established last month, likewise focuses on students with financial challenges.

“Bridging the gap between financial aid and tuition costs is crucial for ensuring that financial concerns do not prevent deserving students from pursuing their dreams,” Robinson stated in a press statement. “We are deeply grateful to the Walker Foundation for supporting our efforts to break down financial barriers and increase educational access.”

More than three decades ago, Merlin Augustine and his sisters founded the M&N Augustine Foundation in Louisiana to help community members in need through education, financial and social support, according to the institution. The foundation honors their parents, Merlin Sr. and Nora, and Mandy Macke, executive director of The Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, has been a longtime supporter.

“We are honored by this because we deal with a lot of people who just need a little help to get through college,” Merlin Augustine, who earned a Doctor of Education from UA-Fayetteville in 1982 and spent 40 years in higher education at the university and the University of Central Arkansas, including as vice chancellor for finance and administration at the former, said in the statement. “Fayetteville is a very generous place with a lot of warm-hearted people.”

He and his wife, who has a Master of Education from UA-Fayetteville and has taught in schools in Conway and Fayetteville for over 35 years, “have made it their life’s work to help those in need and touch thousands of lives through the M&N Augustine Foundation,” according to the statement. “This endowment pays tribute to their unrelenting service and demonstrates our shared commitment and belief in supporting students.”

The Wrights are life members of the Arkansas Alumni Association, the Chancellor’s Society, the Razorback Foundation, and the Cardinal & White and Towers of Old Main charitable organizations.

Their donation is “transformational,” because “study abroad experiences are crucial to both the personal and professional development of our students,” said Ed Pohl, dean of the Graduate School and International Education, in a press statement. “We hear time and time again that study abroad trips not only provide students a better understanding of the world, but they also provide vital professional development chances that serve as strong resume boosters in an increasingly international job market. This scholarship will enable more students to participate in these events that will forever affect the course of their lives.”

According to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, the Honors College Path Program was developed in 2014 to prepare exceptional high school students from underrepresented demographics for success at university. Each student is assigned a peer and professional mentor to help promote academic performance, inspire leadership, and urge them to join the Honors College, which provides resources for study abroad, undergraduate research, and internships.

“The Merlin and Beverly Augustine Endowed Scholarship Fund dramatically improves access to life-changing opportunities for our students,” said Varady. “The Walker Foundation continues to be a key partner in increasing access to programs and resources that are critical to student success.”

Though UA-Fayetteville is one of the least expensive colleges in the Southeastern Conference, scholarships are critical to keeping it inexpensive and accessible, University of Arkansas System Trustee Ed Fryar stated last month. Approximately a quarter of the university’s tuition and required fees “goes back to students in” the form of scholarships.

And the vast majority of those go to Arkansans, according to Suzanne McCray, vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions. The university awards around 90% of its scholarships to Arkansans rather than out-of-state students each year.

Rachel Moore, University Advancement’s director of marketing and communications, stated that the Augustine scholarship might be offered as early as the 2025-26 academic year. The actual number of students who will win the scholarship in a given year is unknown, but “it’ll most likely be more than one student.”

According to John Post, director of communications for the Graduate School and International Education, the Kristen Collier Wright Study Abroad and International Education Fund will accept applications next spring for Summer 2025 Study Abroad awards and fall 2025 semester-long International Exchange experiences. “The donors expressed their wish that awards be granted to as many student applicants with documented financial need as possible.”

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