MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va --
The Marine Corps is continuing to pursue diversity among its ranks and they have found a new partner in the Infinite Scholar Program, or I.S.P. The I.S.P. assists disadvantaged minority students, primarily African-American and Spanish-speaking Americans, by providing mentorship and the financial support for them to continue their education at colleges across the nation.
The I.S.P. was created in 2003, but its beginning has much deeper roots. Thomas Ousley, founder of the Infinite Scholar Program, had one goal: get students to college.
“I worked for 29 years as a teacher for the Jennings School District. Most of the kids came from single parent homes with the mother as the head of the household. The parents didn’t have the money to send their kids to school or the credit to get them a loan,” Ousley said. “I was just trying to send my kids to college, like every teacher does. So every summer, starting in 1992, I called colleges and asked, ‘What is your scholarship platform?’ College fairs seemed to be a big waste of money to me with kids going around and talking to each other and maybe talking to a school. It occurred to me, ‘What if you asked the students to be more serious about this?’”
Over time the list of schools interested in Ousley’s program grew, along with the number of participants, and the I.S.P. was created. The students involved with the I.S.P. typically start out in a mentorship program, where they receive guidance from mentors starting in the 7th and 8th grade. The goal is to have the students’ prepared to attend college by the 10th grade. From there, the students transition into “College Scholars” during their junior year of high school where they are encouraged to start and finish their bachelors’ degree and move into a master’s program.
Infinite Scholar Fairs provide a venue for students to meet with college representatives. The fairs are held in 19 cities nationwide and have over 50 schools in attendance. While admission is free, students are required to bring an unofficial copy of their transcript, two letters of recommendation, a resume and an essay. Due to the enhanced requirements, the students are often able to find out on the spot if they are accepted to attend that particular school or if they meet scholarship requirements.
This is where the Marine Corps comes into the picture. Many of the students involved in the Infinite Scholar Program are uniquely qualified to become Marine Corps officers due to their high grade point averages and ACT scores. According to Maj. Frank Moore, diversity officer, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, working with the I.S.P. shows the students a different path they can take to their degree.
“What we recognize is that there are many young people who are not aware of commissioning opportunities in the United States Marine Corps,” said Moore. “So our participation with the Infinite Scholar Program is one, to share Marine Corps opportunities with young people who are already academically qualified for programs, and two, just to spread the word about scholarship options, mainly NROTC with the Marine option.”
The Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps is a college program for those who seek the challenge of becoming a Navy officer. Because the Marine Corps is a part of the Department of the Navy, NROTC applicants who think they have what it takes to lead Marines can choose the Marine Corps option of the program and earn their commission as a Marine officer.
Ousley said the Marine Corps will continue to be welcome at the I.S.P. fairs.
“I’d like to think that if we keep working on this, we can bring the qualified students in and the Marine Corps will sell itself. What I want to do is send kids to college and send kids to the Marine Corps,” Ousley said. “With the discipline and training the Marine Corps gives, you teach them to keep themselves under control, which is just what some of these kids need.”
The next planned Infinite Scholar Program Fair is scheduled to take place January 15, 2011, in Jacksonville, Fla. Students seeking more information can contact the I.S.P. at their website, infinitescholar.org.
Moore said the Marine Corps interest in the Infinite Scholar Program boils down to one thing.
“We are interested in young people achieving success,” said Moore. “That is why we say we make Marines, we win America’s battles, and we return quality citizens. A young person doesn’t have to be a Marine to become a quality citizen, but we want to encourage that wherever we can.”