The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 20, No.1, Winter 2003


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Wallin Scholars find

REFUGE AT UMD

Many of UMD’s 26 Wallin Scholars are refugees from other countries. That creates a unique set of problems and challenges for student advisor, Kim Roufs, and her assistant, Leigh Berglin. They don’t have the luxury of answering simple career questions. Instead, they are dealing with students who have been victims of torture, who have seen the horrors of war, some of whom are orphans, and many who can’t return to their home country. “It is an honor for me to serve as the Wallin Scholarship contact,” says Roufs. “I have learned an incredible amount about countries around the world. The cultural differences are enriching. I learned that one student was showing respect to me by not raising her head when she talked to me. I learned that because the Hmong culture has a different way of thinking about the future, I need to send reminders to those students closer to the date when things are due. It also means that I have met many students who inspired me.”

The Wallin Scholarships are not awarded through UMD. Over 800 Wallin Scholars have come from Minneapolis high schools and are in post secondary study in Minnesota and surrounding states.

The Wallin Scholarship has an interesting history. After Winston “Win” Wallin retired as Chief Executive Officer of Medtronic in 1996, he and his wife, Maxine, who is a Duluth native, established a Wallin scholarship at his alma mater, Minneapolis South High School. Started in 1991 “The scholarship exemplifies my parents’ personal commitment to education and opportunity for everyone.” said Rebecca Wallin. Rebecca is the daughter of Win and Maxine, who came on board to run the foundation when it expanded from South High School to all of the public high schools in Minneapolis, as well as over 20 alternative high schools connected to the Minneapolis public school system.

“When the scholarship fund expanded, we had no idea how much work it would be. We wanted to set up an organization that would help guarantee success. We set up a selection committee with a scholarship chair, a scholarship coordinator and a payment coordinator in every high school.” All the high schools each have foundations that raise money and cultivate interest with the high school alumni.

A total of two million dollars a year is distributed, based on senior class enrollments and the percentage of ethnic population at a school. Each student receives $2,500 per year toward post-secondary education. Most of the scholarships are renewable to help fund a full four-year college education, provided students meet specific academic requirements.

A key factor in the scholarship's success is that each student is assigned a mentor who keeps in constant contact through their college career. These young people are all low income, first generation college students, so their need for support is high. Rebecca Wallin said, “We make sure they have mentors that they feel comfortable with, who can make the transition from high school to college along with the student.”

Janet Benson, former English as a Second Language teacher at Edison High School in Minneapolis, serves as the advisor to the Wallin Scholars from Edison. She said, “It's great to help to these deserving kids, but it's too bad that we can’t help them all. The Edison Wallin Scholarship is in its fourth year. When it began, it meant a huge leap in the opportunity for the students I worked with.” At Edison, most students are under the poverty level. There is also a huge refugee population and a large African American population.

Benson tells a story of a boy from Sudan who was hesitant to see an employer about a job. Her answer was to tell him, “You left home when you were twelve. You walked a thousand miles. You swam through crocodiles to cross a river. You cannot possibly be afraid of a man who might give you a job.”

After the September 11 attacks, one UMD Wallin scholar, a Muslim from Somalia, was afraid to leave her Duluth apartment. She was afraid that she would be somehow blamed through association, afraid because she had seen acts of terrorism in her home country. It took phone calls and a visit from Roufs and another UMD Somalian student to reassure her.

While some of the UMD Wallin scholars are Minnesotans, most are thousands of miles from their birthplace. They come from places like Sudan, Somalia, Laos, and Kenya. They are now enrolled in a wide range of studies, including international relations, pre-med, business, pre-pharmacy, electrical and computer engineering, education, criminology, mathematics, computer science, and biology.

“This isn’t a free ride,” says Roufs. “They have to apply for work study jobs and financial aid.” Win Wallin's philosophy is to give scholarships to as many students as possible, and at the same time award students enough to succeed.

“It is amazing how these students survive,” said Rebecca Wallin. “I visited one talented young man who was living solely on our grant. The grant is not that large, so in his room he had no bed, no comforter, no lamp, and no towels. He just had a floor and heat and it was all he needed to earn a 4.0 grade point average. Every day, I am amazed how these young men and women do it, without family and resources. They persevere.”

— Cheryl Reitan and Amelia Anderson

 
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