Enduring Opportunities

A new scholarship program helps make the dream of higher education a greater possibility for first-generation students in the College of Business at NDSU.

By Micaela Gerhardt | July 21, 2021

Richard H. Barry Hall, 811 2nd Ave. N, Fargo, ND 58102

First-generation students are defined as students whose parents or guardians did not attain a college degree. According to a 2018 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, one-third of college students identify as first-generation. Between fall 2020 and spring 2021, there were 1,072* undergraduate NDSU students who qualified as first-generation students, 153* of whom whose primary major was in a College of Business program. A new scholarship program funded through philanthropy will award scholarships to incoming first-generation students enrolled in the College of Business at NDSU.

Beginning in fall 2021, all incoming first-generation students enrolled in the College of Business at North Dakota State University will be awarded a one-time scholarship thanks to a new scholarship program funded through philanthropy. The program is supported by the Ronald and Kaye Olson Deanship fund and the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth.

“The Olson and Challey families are wonderful,” Scott Beaulier, the Ronald and Kaye Olson Dean of the College of Business, said. “We’re leveraging their philanthropy for maximal student impact.”

For many students, the primary consideration in college choice is the cost of attendance. Along with driving down this cost for first-generation students, Beaulier hopes the scholarship program will signal to students that NDSU’s College of Business takes opportunity and access seriously and is committed to helping students succeed.

"As a land-grant university committed to access for all qualified students, we see this program as a way to remain true to our College and University mission," Beaulier said.

Scott Beaulier

The Ronald and Kaye Olson Dean of the College of Business

“Our College of Business is focused on social mobility and advancing well-being for all students,” Beaulier said. “We know first-generation students have a steeper climb in adjusting to college and in enjoying success, so these dollars make a difference in our enrollment and retention of students.”

Ron Olson ’62, who established Beaulier’s deanship with his wife, Kaye, in 2019, attended NDSU as a first-generation student himself. His parents attended school through the eighth grade, but he, his brother, and his sister were each given the opportunity to pursue college degrees.

Ron '62 and Kaye Olson (Photo courtesy of NDSU News)

“When you think about the ability our parents gave us to be able to go to college, it’s exciting,” Olson said. “I think the opportunities just increase by having a college education.”

Olson always had big dreams. After graduating with a business degree from NDSU, he pursued a career in retail business. He was offered his first post-grad position with Woodward & Lothrop, a department store in Washington D.C. After holding various management positions in retail business and opening his own furniture store, Olson founded Winmark and started franchising Play It Again Sports in 1989. With the success of selling used sporting goods, he purchased the franchise rights for Once Upon A Child, Plato’s Closet, and Music Go Round; today, there are more than 1200 stores nationally. Olson retired from Winmark in 200 but came out of retirement in 2006, when he and his son founded NTY Franchise Company and acquired franchise rights to Clothes Mentor and Children’s Orchard; today there are more than 130 stores nationally. 

“My brother, my sister, and I have been very successful in our lives,” Olson said, “We certainly raised our standard of living dramatically because of our degrees, and NDSU was very helpful in launching my career.”

"I'm a strong believer in college education. It changes the world. It changes the position of where you are in life."

Ron Olson '62

NDSU Foundation Trustee

Beaulier, too, is a first-generation student. He graduated from Northern Michigan University with a B.S. in economics and history, then earned his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He joined NDSU as a Professor of Economics and the Dean of the College of Business in 2016.

“As a first-generation student myself, I have firsthand experience with the challenges of being first-generation,” Beaulier said. “I also have tremendous gratitude for the opportunity higher education has afforded me.”

Scott Beaulier, the Ronald and Kaye Olson Dean of the College of Business.

According to the 2021 report from the Center for First-Generation Student Success, “First-generation students, those for whom neither parent completed a bachelor’s degree, had significantly higher rates of borrowing” to obtain a college degree than students whose parents earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Data from the 2021 Center for First-Generation Student Success report.

“It’s important to invest in first-generation students because they are often the hardest working and most outside-the-box students we engage with on an annual basis,” Beaulier said.

In 2021, the College of Business will award about $75,000 in scholarships to first-generation students. Besides being first-generation students in good academic standing at the time of admission to the College of Business, students are expected to attend the Menard Family Distinguished Speaker Series at NDSU, a program that hosts renowned thought leaders whose ideas explore ways to improve the human condition and create economic opportunity.

“As a land-grant university committed to access for all qualified students, we see this program as a way to remain true to our College and University mission,” Beaulier said.

Olson is optimistic the new scholarship program will ease some of the financial barriers first-generation students face, encouraging them to pursue degrees in the College of Business at NDSU.

“I’m a strong believer in college education,” Olson said. “It changes the world. It changes the position of where you are in life.”

Thanks to the opportunities his parents afforded him and his siblings, the Olson family has a deep commitment to higher education and a strong Bison legacy. Olson has been an NDSU Foundation Trustee since 1997 and currently serves as a campaign ambassador for In Our Hands: The Campaign for North Dakota State University, which exceeded its $400 million campaign goal 20 months ahead of schedule in April 2021, but is continuing to raise support for NDSU students, faculty, programs, and facilities through Dec. 31, 2021. One of Olson’s grandsons just completed his freshman year at NDSU, and another grandson is planning to attend NDSU in the fall.

“We have a total of six [grandkids],” Olson said, “and I’m hoping all six go to NDSU.”

If you would like to contribute to the Ronald and Kaye Olson Dean of the College of Business fund or receive information on how to fund your own endowment, contact Cody Jangula, director of development in the College of Business, via email. North Dakota taxpayers are eligible for a 40% state tax credit for contributions to an existing endowment or upon establishing an endowment.

“I certainly would love to have more people establish scholarships in the College of Business, but I’d also say it’d be good for other people to provide a deanship to other NDSU Colleges so they have the same opportunities Scott has,” Olson said. “It’s a great opportunity for people if they’re looking to help NDSU grow.”

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*This data is provided by the NDSU Office of Institutional Research and Analysis and reflects an estimate of the first-generation student population at NDSU based off of data from questions included in the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) that ask applicants about their parents’ education levels. FAFSA is self-reported, and NDSU does not have data about parent education levels for students who did not complete a FAFSA form.