Dick Steele's Scholarship allows Maine students to attend Explo and receive college guidance

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Richard "Dick" Steele

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Richard Steele Scholarship Fund

On May 3, 2010, the Exploration Board of Trustees unanimously voted to establish the Richard "Dick" Steele Scholarship Fund. Dick, who passed away last spring after a battle with cancer, devoted his career and much of himself to the world of college and university admissions. Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin College, where Dick culminated his life's work with more than a decade of service as Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, wrote a poignant letter to the Bowdoin community about Dick's extraordinary contributions to his field. [click here to read the Barry Mills letter]

As a Trustee of Exploration, Dick was instrumental in helping the organization develop a pilot scholarship program for students from northern Aroostook County, Maine to attend the Exploration Senior Program on the campus of Yale University. The Fund, which has received some of its financial support from Anchor Capital Management, honors Dick's unwavering commitment to Exploration and his tremendous dedication to college and university admissions. With the first group of scholars now seniors in high school, Moira Kelly, Exploration's Executive Director, and Carlene Riccelli, Exploration's college counselor, made a trip to The County in early November. Candace Leary accompanied Moira and Carlene on the trip and filed this story.

The potato fields of Aroostook County stretch for miles, brown and barren in early November after harvest has passed. The furrows have been combed clean and the harvested potatoes that have not gone to market are stored in barns that crouch on the land, soil bermed around three of the four walls to ensure cool, dry storage. It is as if the earth is hugging the crop, preserving and protecting it from the harsh winter of Maine's northernmost county.

Known simply as "The County" to its residents, Aroostook is the largest county east of the Mississippi River and is larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined. It is bordered on the east, west and north by Canada. Running along its northern boundary is the St. John River, which splits Canada from the United States. In this vast area that includes the last great wilderness waterway in the eastern United States, 73,938 residents live in The County's two cities, 54 towns, 11 plantations and 108 unorganized townships. The median income for a household in Aroostook County is $28,837. Nearly a third of the people are of French or French Canadian descent, and in some towns, such as Van Buren, located in the St. John Valley, 80% of the population speak French.

Due to its remote location, the culture in The County is insular and focused on farming. There is little anonymity in small communities where children might attend the same school from elementary through secondary grades, or attend regional schools with students from several other towns. A graduating class may have fewer than 50 students. From the end of September through early October, older students are released from school for two or three weeks to help with the potato harvest. Although not as many students are needed in the fields today as in the past due to the dwindling number of potato farms and growing mechanization, the tradition continues as it has for generations.

While the hearty and self-sustaining lifestyle of northern Aroostook families contributes to their close-knit relationships and deep sense of community, the remoteness can function as a barrier to the world at large, one that keeps the residents from venturing out, and outsiders from coming in. Many of the schools do not offer high school students a wide selection of courses, particularly at the Advanced Placement level, because there are not enough students to enroll in them or teachers available to teach them. But opportunities today are better than they have been in the past.

The State of Maine is committed to making technology available in its schools. Qualified students can take online courses, including those from the University of Maine. Twenty years ago this would not have been possible. Now, bright, motivated students can blossom and flourish. Despite this progress, it is still rare for students to look outside The County to explore post-secondary school possibilities that can direct their futures. One administrator at a regional high school explained that most students look to attend a local branch of the University of Maine or a local community college. She explained that there is little interest in looking farther afield. "We have a hard time getting students out of their comfort zones. It's hard to get them to [colleges in] Washington County or southern Maine."

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In 2008, as a way of helping some Northern Maine students expand their horizons, Exploration Summer Programs, with the support of Anchor Capital Advisors, established a pilot scholarship program. Three rising sophomores from northern Aroostook County schools were offered full scholarships to attend the Exploration Senior Program on the campus of Yale University. Secondary schools in northern Aroostook County were invited to nominate outstanding students who would be enthusiastic participants in a program that draws students from 40 states and more than 50 countries. After reviewing applications, essays, grades, and teacher evaluations, an Exploration committee selected three students to venture from The County to the Old Campus at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Moira Kelly, the Executive Director of Exploration Summer Programs, is quite familiar with the experience these young people were having in school. She herself went to high school in the town of Van Buren on the Canadian border. Moira says, "It's hard to envision what the world has to offer when you've only seen a small part of it. Northern Maine is physically stunning. Absolutely gorgeous. The people are sharp and full of grit. At the same time, the economy isn't very diverse, nor is the racial or ethnic composition of the population. The point of bringing students to Exploration is to expose them to a diverse world of people and ideas. And to do it early enough in their lives that it could impact what they do for the rest of their high school careers and beyond."

But Moira felt that just attending the Senior Program was not enough. "When I was in high school I was very lucky that I was able to attend a summer program that included college counseling after I returned home. I'd never heard of any of the colleges my summer college advisor recommended, and my guidance counselor at home had little-to-no experience advising students on competitive college admissions." Moira knew that Exploration trustee, and long-time college and university admissions dean, Dick Steele, would understand. "Dick knew right away what a difference it could make if we could follow these students after they left Exploration. My concern was finding the right college counselor. So I asked Dick for advice." He said he knew exactly the right person, Dr. Carlene Riccelli, who has an impressive background of college counseling and admissions networking, as well as experience as an advisor to the College Board. After working with Carlene for the past three years, Moira is quick to concur that Dick was correct with his recommendation.

* * *

In the autumn of 2010, after harvest had passed, Moira and Carlene traveled to The County to meet with the three students who attended the Program in 2008, along with their families, for in-depth counseling in the college application and financial aid processes.

During her visits with all three students, Carlene focused on college application essays, as well as college choices and financial options. Much of the contact to this point had been through telephone calls and email exchanges. The opportunity to meet face-to-face with the students and their parents proved to be invaluable to all. Carlene worked with the students to make sure they had solicited teacher and outside recommendation letters; that SAT and Subject Tests were taken and official scores were in place for dissemination to selected schools; and that application essays were well on their way to completion.

Parents were prepped on the filing of the online FAFSA application, CSS Profile and institutional forms to ensure the timely submission of financial aid documents and optimization of aid awards. Victoria Winslow's mother, April, poignantly expressed what all of the parents were feeling at this incredibly exciting time in their children's lives. "I didn't want her to go [to New Haven]; but I pushed her and said, 'You have to do this.' I wanted her to take advantage of the Program," she said. "I was scared, but wanted what was best for my daughter."

While in The County, Carlene and Moira also took the opportunity to meet with administrators and guidance counselors at five schools to discuss nominating students for the next round of Northern Maine Scholarships, now known as the Richard Steele Scholarships. Those selected will attend a session at the Senior Program at Yale in the summer of 2011 and will receive college counseling from Exploration as they finish their secondary school careers and make plans for the future.

Moira believes that the Fund is a fitting legacy for Dick. Also a Maine native, Dick was deeply committed to the area https://www.viagrasansordonnancefr.com/viagra-cialis/ and would be honored to have his name associated with this scholarship program for bright young students from his home state. Beyond his affinity for Maine, Moira says, "he was kindhearted, and really loved finding interesting kids [for colleges]… he did this for a lifetime." Barry Mills, President of Bowdoin College, where Dick spent more than a decade of his career, agrees, saying, "[Dick] saw great value and purpose in promoting and improving access to higher education in America." Mills continues, "he had a warm approach and a reassuring smile [that] eased the stress of the college admissions process for countless students and their families." And, through his fund, Richard Steele's life work of granting access and easing stress will continue to impact bright, unique students and their families in meaningful and positive ways.

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If you would like to make a donation to the Richard Steele Scholarship fund, please click here.

Published March 3, 2011

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