Offbeat Dollars for Scholars
Offbeat Dollars for Scholars
If you're tall or can summon a duck, you've got a shot at financial aid. Does qo'mey
poSmoH Hol ring a bell? It may be worth $500.
By Rebecca Trounson
Times Staff Writer
June 25, 2004
The annual duck celebration in Stuttgart, Ark., was winding down - the Queen Mallard
beauty pageant was over and the world's best duck dog had been determined. Then Daniel
Duke stepped onto the Main Street stage.
Duke, a teenage veteran of more than a dozen duck-calling contests, wowed the judges
with his renditions of the four required blasts: hail, feed, comeback and mating.
Duke, from the nearby town of Brinkley, triumphed - and bagged one of the nation's
more unusual college scholarships.
"I knew I had a shot at it," the 19-year-old said of the $1,500 award, which he hopes
to use to attend the University of Arkansas. "And I think it's pretty great you can
get a scholarship for calling ducks."
Others might, too.
With the cost of a college education rising relentlessly, students are scrambling
for scholarships. Some win awards based on financial need or exceptional smarts. Some
are gifted athletes. Others get help from foundations, companies or service clubs.
But some, like Duke, are able to snag scholarships because of less conventional talents,
interests or physical attributes.
For certain scholarships, for instance, it might be helpful to be tall or left-handed,
short or heavy. Or to be skilled at designing and crafting stylish garments made of
wool - or duct tape. Or to be deeply interested in the study of water bugs or winemaking,
funerals or fungus.
Each issue, each interest, it seems, has its own awards.
There are scholarships for welders, fly fishers and pie makers, for golf caddies
and skateboarders. There is one for pagans and another for parapsychologists. There
is even one sponsored by fans of Klingons, the fictional bumpy-headed aliens of "Star
One endowment fund is for needy music students who can sing or play the national
anthem "with sincerity." Another seeks clean-living young people who do "not participate
in strenuous athletic contests." (An occasional Frisbee toss is probably OK, its gatekeepers
"Some of these [scholarships] are so specific, it's like you're going to find one
that says the kid has to have one brown eye and one blue eye," said Delisa Falks,
associate director of financial aid at Texas A&M University. Even at that, she added,
chuckling, "you probably could."
Such offbeat scholarships, privately funded and often from bequests, tend to be small,
bringing a recipient anywhere from $500 to a few thousand dollars.
Some high school counselors say the awards are hardly worth the trouble and encourage
students to focus instead on more traditional grants.
But others say a few thousand dollars is nothing to sneeze at, especially for what,
in some cases, may amount to an hour or two of effort. And right now, the experts
say, is an excellent time for next year's high school seniors to launch their search.
Even the quirkiest scholarships "help reduce a student's loan indebtedness and are
a great way for them to be recognized for their talents and abilities," said David
S. Levy, director of financial aid at Caltech.
Tiffany Chioma Anaebere, for example, was online one night last year while she was
a senior at King-Drew Medical Magnet High School in Los Angeles. She happened upon
a scholarship for tall kids. Anaebere, who stands 5 feet 11, figured she had a chance.
The minimum for female applicants was 5 feet 10 and, for males, 6 feet.
She got in touch with the scholarship's local sponsor, the California Tip Toppers
Club ("World's Highest Society"), filled out the application - including a shortish
essay on being tall - and fired it off. She won, earning $1,000 to help pay her way
at Stanford University.
Anaebere, who just completed her freshman year, said the award was not the largest
she won. Yet it came in handy, she said, and she gets a kick out of telling her college
friends about it.
"It was definitely the oddest one I got," said Anaebere, 18. "It really fits the
mold of being able to win a scholarship for almost anything."
In Stuttgart, billed as the "Rice and Duck Capital of the World," Pat Peacock helps
organize both the town's annual duck fest and the contest named after her stepfather
and mother, Chick and Sophie Major. The 30-year-old scholarship, Peacock says, is
for duck-calling high school seniors with any higher education plans, whether university
or barber college.
Duke, the 2003 winner, wants to study agricultural business. But first, he hopes
to do a little duck-hunting.
At Juniata College in Pennsylvania, left-handers are in luck. A 1922 graduate who
met her future husband, a fellow lefty, when they were paired in a tennis class bequeathed
$24,000 to the college to establish a scholarship in their name.
Since the Frederick and Mary F. Beckley award was first given in 1979, at least one
student a year has received it and sometimes as many as five, Juniata officials said.
It is usually worth about $1,000 a year to each recipient.
Jeannie Miller, who got the "lefty scholarship," as it is known on campus, for the
last three years, said she enjoyed telling newcomers about it. "People would say,
'Oh, my God! That's so cool!' " said Miller, a recent graduate.
To be eligible, students must have spent a year at Juniata, have good grades and
meet other criteria. As to how the college confirms left-handedness, "We pretty much
take them at their word," Juniata spokesman John Wall said. "They don't have to go
out back and throw or anything."
Miller, who used to play softball, confesses that she bats right.
Other scholarships are sponsored by organizations that are themselves a bit offbeat.
This year, the Free Spirit Alliance, one of the nation's larger pagan groups, is
sponsoring two $500 scholarships and raising the funds atypically too, with a tattoo
design contest. Applicants need not be pagan, organizers say, but spiritual open-mindedness
The alliance, whose members includes witches, druids and shamans, is earnest about
its scholarships. "The quest for knowledge is very important," said Glen Marshall,
a computer security specialist who is its treasurer.
In a similar vein, the Klingon Language Institute, founded in 1992 by fans of "Star
Trek" and its warrior Klingon aliens, offers its own $500 scholarship.
The award, for an undergrad or graduate student in language or linguistics, is a
nod to the institute's own mission to go where few have gone before, exploring and
promoting the extensive language created for use in several "Star Trek" films.
Funding comes from sales of the group's translation of "Hamlet," iambic pentameter
reportedly intact, into what members like to call "the original Klingon." The reference
is to a sly joke in one of the films about how Shakespeare is best enjoyed in his
Institute director Lawrence Schoen said the scholarship, which last year had no recipient
and few applicants, may suffer a bit from what he delicately termed the "spitting
and barking" issue, the funny noises would-be Klingons use to speak their language
Nonetheless, "we take the work with the language very seriously," said Schoen, a
research psychologist and former college professor. He cited the institute's motto:
"Language opens worlds." Or, in the (original) Klingon: "qo'mey poSmoH Hol."
Finding and applying for any scholarship - oddball, obscure or mainstream - has never
been easier, say Caltech's Levy and others. "I've had students sit down at a computer,
put in a few hours' work and pick up $10,000," Levy said. "Every bit of it helps."
Websites such as FastWeb and FinAid, subsidiaries of Monster.com, and another run
by the College Board, owner of the SAT entrance exam, ask students to answer a few
questions online. Then, at no charge, they guide them toward scholarships that may
fit their interests or talents.
Students should be wary, though, of websites or programs that charge for scholarship
information or applications, said Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid. "If they have
to pay to get money, it's probably a scam," he said.
Certain legitimate scholarships have evolved over time.
At Pennsylvania's Bucknell University, officials say the Gertrude J. Deppen scholarship
was established in 1967 by Joseph H. Deppen in memory of his sister. The fund, Deppen
specified, is for needy students who do not drink, smoke or use drugs and who come
from one particular high school in Pennsylvania's coal country.
Because that school, Mount Carmel, is a football powerhouse, Deppen also required
that those receiving his scholarship should not take part in "strenuous athletic contests,"
explained Linda Reinaker, Bucknell's manager of endowed gifts.
"The way we interpret that now is that they just don't participate in varsity sports,"
Reinaker said. "Intramural teams are OK."
As for the clean-living aspect, Reinaker joked that she does not make spot-checks
at recipients' dorm rooms, but students are warned to avoid public infractions.
For some of the most lucrative scholarships, the main requirement - and the one that's
hardest to meet - is the right name.
In 1978, for example, a young woman named Susan Hawley was a freshman at Texas A&M.
She fell in love with a cotton and cattle farmer named Joe Scarpinato Jr., married
him and dropped out after one year. From time to time, she thought about going back
to school but knew her growing family could never afford it.
Eighteen years later, a letter arrived at her home in Hearne, Texas. "This man had
left over half a million [dollars] to A&M and he wanted people with his name to go
to college," she said. "They were trying to get in touch with everyone who had that
Her name, it turned out.
The endowment established by Lee Scarpinato, an A&M alum, is for any qualified undergrad,
graduate or professional school student with his last name, by birth or marriage.
It covers all tuition and fees, along with an allotment for room and board, an amount
now worth about $12,000 annually, said Falks, the fund's coordinator.
After getting the scholarship, Susan Scarpinato went back to school, earning a bachelor's
degree in agricultural development in 2002. She will complete her master's degree
Now her son Joey, 18, has been accepted at A&M and also will benefit. "It's just
a godsend," said Joey, who will start at the university this fall.
But his mother, sounding apologetic, admits to a quibble with the rules: What if
her daughter, say, were to marry, take her husband's name and then wanted to go to
A&M? And what about their kids? None would be eligible for the scholarship without
that magic name.
Susan Scarpinato says she understands, though. "You know, it was his money and he
did this incredible thing. And what he really wanted, I think, was for everyone to
hear the name - 'Scarpinato' - called out when you walk across that stage."
So far, officials said, the Scarpinato scholarship has never gone wanting. That's
not the case, though, at Loyola University of Chicago.
There, a lack of applicants for one highly specialized endowment has prompted admissions
officers to page through out-of-town phone books whenever they travel, said Edward
Moore, the university's scholarship director.
"They're trying to find Zolps," he said.
Or more specifically, eligible students who can prove two things: that they are Catholic
and, since birth, have been named Zolp. Anyone who can and is otherwise eligible for
admission can get a scholarship that covers tuition at the private Jesuit college,
worth nearly $22,000 next school year.
"We'd really like to spend that money," Moore said.
Seven or eight years ago, in a more Zolp-abundant era, there were actually two enrolled
at once. But the slots have stood empty in recent years.
"Three years ago, we had a Zolp prospect," Moore recalled. "But you know what? He
got a golf scholarship and went somewhere else. Incredible."