JMU in the Community

Centennial Scholars 10th Anniversary

by Paula Polglase


Group photo of JMU Centennial Scholar students on steps of Wilson HallCentennial Scholars is celebrating an anniversary. “Ten years is such a milestone. In some ways it feels like we’re just beginning, but ten years is really quite a while,” said Diane Strawbridge (’80,’02), executive director of Student Access and Inclusion. The Centennial Scholars Program at James Madison University accepted its first class of students in 2004. An initiative by former JMU President Linwood Rose to increase the culture of diversity at JMU, CSP offers full scholarships to Virginia residents who demonstrate financial need. Through the program students also receive academic support, peer mentoring, interaction with a faculty mentor and cultural enrichment activities and career-oriented workshops. The program requires students to keep a 3.0 GPA, perform community service and participate in campus activities. 

Over 350 students over the past ten years have come through the program, including undergraduate, transfers and graduate students. “When I look at the number of students who have been impacted by this program then I can see the magnitude of it,” said Strawbridge.

More than 350 students over the past ten years have come through the program—read Centennial Scholar Chiquita King's ('09, 11M) story.

Students in classroom surrounding Dr. RoseThe Centennial Scholars program has evolved over the years. Strawbridge was hired the fall after the first cohort was chosen and has been in charge ever since.  Her first job she said was to educate the students, who had no real sense of why they were in the program. “I quickly realized I had to educate the students on what the opportunities were, what they could gain from it and how it could change their lives,” she said. The hard work of letting prospective students know that JMU had these scholarships has changed from the first few years. Now, Strawbridge says, people come to us because they’ve heard about the program; the students in the program and alumni “sell the program.” 

The staff has grown from no director and four graduate students, to a director, 16 graduate students and an administrative assistant. The graduate students are instrumental in leading small groups and mentoring the individual Scholars through their time at JMU. “We want to be there for them,” said Strawbridge. “We care, we want to know what’s going on with each of these students.”

Diane Strawbridge with student Strawbridge says Centennial Scholars is a great example of the “engaged university.” Part of the requirement for a Centennial Scholar is continued community service through JMU’s Community Service Learning department. Students have volunteered all over Harrisonburg including placements at Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Quilt Museum, Explore More Discovery Museum, WVPT and the SPCA. Strawbridge says it’s a great way for the students to connect with the larger Harrisonburg community.

Alumni are highly encouraged to get involved with the current Centennial Scholars program. Strawbridge says the ten year mark is the perfect time to kick-off  a new program – the Alumni Impact Partnership that will encourage alumni to get involved with current Scholars through mentoring and networking. Cherelle Johnson (’08, ‘12) an alum of the program, will be spearheading these alumni connections. “This is an opportunity for alumni to become mentors to undergraduate students,” said Johnson. “I would encourage my fellow alums to become Alumni Impact Mentors and continue to enhance the legacy of CSP.”

Strawbridge encourages alumni to give back not just of their time but financially as well. “I want to foster our students and alum to give back – any amount would be great,” said Strawbridge. Donations to the Centennial Scholar fund would help create book scholarships for students in need and could potentially help expand the program to its maximum capacity of 200 students.

To make a gift to Centennial Scholars click here.

To find out more about the program click here

By Paula Harahan Polglase ('92, '96M)

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Last Updated: Monday, September 10, 2018

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