Occidental Launches Groundbreaking Barack Obama Scholars Program

Jim Tranquada

Occidental College today announced the launch of its Barack Obama Scholars Program to empower exceptional students committed to the public good as it honors and perpetuates the principles President Barack Obama has advanced throughout his life. 

"My years at Occidental College sparked my interest in social and political causes, and filled me with the idea that my voice could make a difference," said President Obama, a member of the Occidental College Class of 1983. "And throughout my time in public service, I’ve tried to use my voice to bring people together, in common effort, around the idea that we could give every young person in America the chance that America gave me."

"That’s why I’m so humbled by the Barack Obama Scholars Program at Oxy, and proud of its mission to identify promising young people from all backgrounds—with an emphasis on first-generation students, our veterans, and community college transfers—not only to give them access to higher education, but to train the next generation of leaders and active citizens, and fill them with the conviction that they too can change the world."

Beginning in fall 2018, supported by donors who share the Occidental-Obama vision, Occidental will endow two scholarships and thereafter ramp up to 20 scholarships for a select group of students, providing a singular liberal arts education designed to equip them to bring about meaningful change in the world. Prior to today’s public launch, Oxy raised $7 million from a wide range of generous supporters drawn from alumni and friends of the College, including Susan DiMarco and Jeh Johnson, Glenn and Jane Hickerson, Leif and Aileen Isaksen, Ann and Bruce Blume, and Janice Gonzales.

The program represents Occidental’s investment in students who aspire to become change agents but lack the opportunity to fully realize their goals, and continues the legacy of leadership embodied by the institution’s most famous alumnus. Each Obama Scholar will be awarded a four-year scholarship, providing loan-free funding for the entire cost of an Occidental education, in addition to summer enrichment programs.

"We are delighted to have President Obama’s support for a program that has such potential to have a far-reaching impact in the public sphere," said Occidental College President Jonathan Veitch. "Occidental will prepare its Obama Scholars to become agents of change in keeping with the spirit and legacy of President Obama’s historic presidency."

The Obama Scholars Program will recruit students from all backgrounds—with an emphasis on first-generation students, veterans, and community college transfers—and provide them with complete support, including tuition, room and board, and summer travel programs. Scholars also will have access to mentoring from Occidental faculty and the program’s advisory council, which includes prominent alumni, former administration officials and some of President Obama’s friends.

Advisory council members include former national director of training for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign Sara El-Amine (Occidental Class of 2007); Ambassador Vinai Thummalapally; former Under Secretary of Education and Occidental President Emeritus Ted  Mitchell; Ambassador Denise Campbell Bauer (Occidental Class of 1986); former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson (parent of a recent Occidental graduate); former White House Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Fred DuVal (Occidental Class of 1976); international transit consultant and former New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan (Occidental Class of 1982); and president of Southern California Public Radio Bill Davis (Occidental Class of 1980). 

"There is no better inspiration in the world today than Barack Obama, and this program seeks to build upon his legacy that began at Occidental College," said Obama Scholars Advisory Council member Jeh Johnson. "The Barack Obama Scholars Program will unleash a continuous flow of change agents eager to engage in issues that strongly and positively affect the advancement of our modern society and unite our country."

Obama Scholars will have the opportunity to take full advantage of Occidental’s wide range of academic programs, hands-on experiences such as working at United Nations-related organizations in New York or on a major political campaign, full access to summer internships, support in conducting research projects and study abroad.

For more information on the Barack Obama Scholars Program at Occidental College, please visit obamascholars.oxy.edu