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Autumn Gilmore is a chemistry and biochemistry junior at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Photo by Alyson McClaran.

Vax scholarship keeps education dreams alive

Five students won free tuition for getting vaccinated. For financially strapped students struggling to pay for college, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

August 19, 2021

By Cory Phare

Autumn Gilmore faced a conundrum. The junior double majoring in Chemistry and Biology at Metropolitan State University of Denver ran into some major financial emergencies this summer, including an air conditioner that conked out and depleted the college savings account with which she and her family had planned to pay for school.

Gilmore had to drop the full slate of classes she was enrolled in for fall semester. And with two small children at home, the road ahead was unclear.

That’s when the call came – she’d been selected for the Rowdy Return Scholarship, which covers outstanding tuition and fees for the 2021-22 academic year.

“This scholarship is such a blessing for my family,” she said. “Receiving (it) really made it possible for me to continue my education.”

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President Janine Davidson, Ph.D., announced in June that the University would award free tuition to five randomly selected MSU Denver undergraduate students who had received at least one dose of any of the three authorized Covid-19 vaccines by July 19. The drawing, she said, was a way to reward students for their commitment to public health. 

The University’s data and analytics team randomly assigned all students who completed a vaccine verification form by Aug. 1 to a number between one and 1 billion. The five largest numbers were then selected as the winners. Awardees included two seniors, a junior and two freshmen. They will receive the cost of tuition and fees not covered by financial aid awards for the 2021-22 academic year, up to $8,164 for the full year.

The drawing underscores MSU Denver’s commitment to keeping students and members of faculty and staff safe as they prepare to return to campus for the fall semester Aug. 23, said Steve Monaco, executive director of the Health Center at Auraria.  

He cited data from the Colorado Immunization Information System stating that approximately 74% of the Auraria Campus community was fully vaccinated as of Aug. 2, with another 5% partially so.

“Our percentages are looking relatively good, but we’re not resting on our laurels,” Monaco said. “The bottom line is we need to get as close to 100% as we can. That’s how we will beat the pandemic, whether it’s Delta or any other variant.”

Autumn Gilmore, a chemistry and biology junior at MSU Denver, was one of five students selected for the Rowdy Return Scholarship. Photo by Alyson McClaran.
Autumn Gilmore, a chemistry and biology junior at MSU Denver, was one of five students selected for the Rowdy Return Scholarship. Photo by Alyson McClaran.

In addition to bolstering community safety, the Rowdy Return Scholarship enhances the University’s access-driven mission, said Mary Sauceda, Ed.D., associate vice president of Enrollment Management at MSU Denver.

“People often think about access in terms of getting into college, but another component is affordability,” she said. “We already offer a great value proposition in that regard, so being able to extend scholarships like this goes even further.”

For Jake Larson, receiving the funds after a year of being unemployed was “a lifesaver,” putting him closer to his goals of law school and launching a business.

“I had been worried whether or not I would be able to afford going to school this year,” the Accounting senior said. “The Rowdy Return Scholarship will allow me to complete my degree.”

Likewise, the scholarship is a huge relief for Stephany Rogers, a freshman who is working toward a Criminal Justice and Criminology degree but was struggling to pay for tuition.

“It meant that I could start the fall semester off with so much less stress,” she said.

RELATED: This alumna's work gives researchers an in-depth look at deadly viruses


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