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More than 30 years of giving has helped hundreds graduate from NMSU

For more than three decades, high school honor students from across New Mexico have attended New Mexico State University thanks in part to a unique scholarship program funded by gifts to the institution. The President's Associates Scholarship Program was celebrated at the university Feb. 24 as the first Stewardship Story hosted by the NMSU Foundation.

Guests mingle at the conclusion of the NMSU Foundation's first Stewardship Story.
Jennifer Holberg, left, visits with guests during the New Mexico State University Foundation's first Stewardship Story event, which highlighted the President's Associates Scholarship Program. Holberg is a former PA Scholarship recipient and NMSU graduate. T. Greg Merrion, center, is president of Merrion Oil and Gas Corporation. The company has established an endowment to support the PA Scholarship Program. Both Holberg and Merrion were guest speakers at the event. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Established in 1978, the President's Associates Scholarship Program evolved from a partnership that then President Gerald Thomas formed with Las Cruces community leaders to involve the community in supporting the university and attract academically superior students to campus. The program has helped hundreds of students graduate from NMSU.

"As Dr. Thomas said when organizing the President's Associates Program, providing private funds for scholars enables New Mexico State University to move toward higher levels of achievement in its academic programs," said NMSU President Barbara Couture. "I have met a number of the President's Associates scholars. These students are truly inspirational."

Initially, a $1,000 contribution from a private donor covered a student's yearly educational costs. As tuition increased, the organization's board of directors looked for additional ways to support students over their four-year academic careers. Many individuals and businesses established endowments that provide annual earnings to help support the scholarships. Fifteen new scholars are selected each year. They can major in any discipline, but must maintain a 3.5 GPA to keep their scholarships.

Co-hosting the celebration was the President's Associates Scholarship Board. Denni Cheney, president of the board, said, "This is the most important scholarship that New Mexico State offers, because this scholarship keeps our best and brightest students here in New Mexico."

T. Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas Corporation, a second-generation family-owned business based in Farmington, N.M., spoke at the celebration about why his company has established an endowment to support the President's Associates Scholarship Program.

Merrion said he learned about the program when the daughter of one of his employees received the PA scholarship. In preparation for his remarks, Merrion spoke to Tracy Reynolds, who is now two and half years into a doctoral program at Yale University and working to develop a therapeutic vaccine for Hepatitis B.

"I was able to talk to Tracy two days ago. She said she did not know if she could have gone to NMSU without the scholarship. The scholarship made it possible for her to do what she is doing today," Merrion said. "You're dealing with the cream of the crop and you are providing them the opportunity to go on and do great things."

Merrion said the endowed scholarship was an opportunity for his company to help people and make a difference in New Mexico. He concluded his remarks with, "If you think you're too small to make a difference, you've never had a mosquito in your bed."
Also speaking at the celebration was former PA scholarship recipient and NMSU graduate Jennifer Holberg, who is an English professor at Calvin College.

"NMSU had professors who were world-class researchers, but they were committed to students and were amazing teachers. This scholarship is why I came to NMSU," Holberg said.

Quoting George Eliot, Holberg added, "What do we live for except to make life less difficult for each other. I do not know all the people who invested in my scholarship, but they made my life possible. We need to invest in people."

This is the first in a series of Stewardship Stories, to highlight the amazing programs that have been established at the university thanks to the generosity of its donors.

"Stewardship Stories allow us to celebrate philanthropy and thank the people who make it possible," said Dennis Prescott, NMSU vice president for university advancement and president of the NMSU Foundation.