May 11, 2006
By GRACE E. MERRITT, Courant Staff Writer
Damian Fuller's mother works in a kitchen and his father is a porter. They make enough to get by, but not really enough to to send their son to college.
"I didn't know if I could pay for college," said Fuller, 17, a senior at Bulkeley High School who dreams of becoming a dentist or a businessman some day.
So he was excited to learn this week that he is one of 15 high school students from Hartford selected to get a free ride to the University of Connecticut through a partnership between the university, Hartford schools and the MassMutual Foundation for Hartford.
MassMutual is putting up $585,000 to send 15 students a year for the next four years to UConn. The program is aimed at students such as Fuller who will be the first in their families to attend a four-year college.
The money will pay for a laptop computer, textbooks and a summer orientation program and will supplement tuition not covered by financial aid, said Ronald Copes, MassMutual vice president of community relations and executive director of the MassMutual Foundation.
"The goal is for students to worry about school and not worry about paying for school," Copes said.
Fuller became interested in dentistry when he attended a program on forensic dentistry and examined a set of teeth from a cadaver, gold fillings and all. Fuller is clearly excited about attending UConn and believes the six-week summer orientation program will be particularly helpful.
"I think this is a great opportunity for inner city kids to go to the college campus. Based on what I've heard, it's going to be really hard," he said.
The program fits well with UConn's goal to continue diversifying its student body. Nineteen percent of UConn's undergraduates are from minority groups. UConn President Philip E. Austin boasted that UConn is successful at retaining minority students as well, with 92 percent returning after their freshman year.
The partnership also builds toward Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez's goal to increase the number of Hartford youths attending four-year colleges by 25 percent in five years. Last year, only 35 percent of Hartford's graduating seniors went on to four-year colleges.
"This will make a big difference, being that my mom is a single parent with three kids in the house," said Crystal Cruz, 17, a senior at Hartford Public High School.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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