Marian University 21st Century Scholars Flourish from Holistic Approach

by Jackie Kretz | May 06, 2020

21st people newsSamantha Collins, DO ’20 and Gavyn Gerbofsky, DO ’20 share more than the same credentials. They are graduates from both Marian University (2016) and Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MU-COM). They both are native Hoosiers who will be staying in Indianapolis for their recently matched medical residencies. And they both share the common experience of being 21st Century Scholars—an experience which is hardly common at Marian University. 

In fact, Marian University’s 21st Century Scholars Program, which received the Champions Award from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education in 2015, has continued to evolve into a model of best practices for other Indiana universities. 

Thirty years ago, Governor Evan Bayh rallied bipartisan support for a statewide investment in Indiana’s youth. The 21st Century Scholars Program provided low-income seventh and eighth graders with just the incentive they needed to get good grades and stay out of trouble by promising to fund their college tuition. This program brought hope to Indiana’s youth and their parents. It changed the way they envisioned their futures.

That future has been bright. Since the program’s inception, over 100,000 Indiana students have participated and over 30,000 have graduated from college. The program also evolved to include scholar success programming in high schools to improve college readiness in 2011. In 2014, the state deployed success coaches to 25 Indiana colleges.

But, as early as 2008, Marian University realized the extra needs of these students and raised the bar by being the first university in the state—private or public—to hire a full-time on-campus director of 21st Century Scholars.

While some colleges provide academic support to their 21st Century Scholars, Marian University has stayed true to its core Franciscan sponsorship values and taken a much more holistic approach.

“Our holistic approach sets us apart. We take care of the whole person by providing services and programming like peer-to-peer and community mentoring, social and networking events, mock interviews, service projects, and diversity and equity education. We also create a caring, supportive family environment within the scholar community,” said Jennifer Plumlee, executive director for Marian’s Center for Academic Success and Engagement (CASE).

This strategy is definitely working. Not only is the retention rate of Marian’s 21st Century Scholars actually higher than that of the regular student body percentage, these scholars—many from single parent families and income levels 75 percent lower than the average financial aid applicant—are flourishing. 

“The 21st Century Scholars Program gave me the opportunity to make lifelong friends and find mentors to help me pursue my career goals. Having a team of people I could rely on during difficult times was very helpful,” said Collins, who is looking forward to developing meaningful relationships with her patients and helping her colleagues with the COVID-19 crisis. Collins’ residency will be in internal medicine with St. Vincent.

Gerbofsky’s residency with the Indiana University emergency medicine program was a dream come true. He feels blessed to have attended Marian. “I benefitted from the family feel of campus and the support of professors and mentors who supported me academically and personally. Now I’ll meet patients at the front door of the hospital and be able to give back to the Indianapolis community that I love.”

“Samantha and Gavyn are just two shining examples of why Marian works so hard to not only create opportunities and access for 21st Century Scholars, but to also support each student throughout his or her educational journey. This is what this program is all about,” Plumlee said, “and there are many more success stories.”

Two of Marian’s first Orr Fellows were also 21st Century Scholars. Emily Doll ’16 is now a marketing communications specialist at Performance Services, an integrated design and delivery engineering firm, and Amber Ferrari ’15 is a marketing manager for communications and sales support at Jobvite, a software and recruiting corporation. Ferrari was also recently honored by the Indianapolis Business Journal and TechPoint Tech 25 of the Year Program. 

Current Marian 21st Century Scholars are already giving back. In the Fall of 2018, Marian University was awarded a grant from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education to fund the Scholar2Scholar program. This partnership with Pike High School and Riverside High School placed Marian University 21st Century Scholars as mentors in the high schools. 

“The visits to Pike High School were really fun. It was amazing being able to connect with high schoolers, talk to them about their goals in life, and actually help be a stepping stone that helps them reach their goals,” said Salem Padgett ’20. 

Marian University’s commitment to and investment in the 21st Century Scholars Program has proved invaluable. In the spring of 2020, Marian University awarded degrees to 35 21st Century Scholars. They will join many other former 21st Century Scholars, now Marian University alumni actively contributing to the well-being of the State of Indiana and beyond in healthcare, education, business, ministry, and more.

The Indiana 21st Century Scholars Program provides $9,000 per year, which covers the majority of most state public school tuition and fees. In 2002, under the leadership of President Daniel J. Elsener, Marian University became the first private institution to offer full-tuition scholarships to qualified 21st Century Scholars. 

Marian University now provides 25 full (tuition and fees) scholarships to new scholars each year. Funded through a combination of federal, state, and university financial aid sources, the scholarships are renewable if good academic and social standing are maintained. To compete for these scholarships, students must already be admitted to Marian University and complete an application and interview process. To learn more about Marian University’s 21st Century Scholars Program, visit or contact

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Marian University has announced plans to fund an additional 50 scholarships to 21st Century Scholars for the 2020-21 academic year.

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