Leaving a legacy: STARR Scholarship to end

Posted 3/21/23

After helping more than 150 of Wyoming’s top students attend Michigan State University over the past two-and-a-half decades, the STARR Scholarship is coming to an end.

MSU officials …

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Leaving a legacy: STARR Scholarship to end


After helping more than 150 of Wyoming’s top students attend Michigan State University over the past two-and-a-half decades, the STARR Scholarship is coming to an end.

MSU officials announced the news to this year’s scholarship applicants on March 3.

An anonymous couple launched the prestigious, full-ride scholarship in 1998.

Though it was later expanded to include students from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the STARR was initially only offered to Wyoming students. It provided a unique opportunity for graduates in the Cowboy State to attend a large university for free, with the scholarship covering tuition, room and board and expenses.

Over the course of 25 years, the donors’ generosity provided a college education to 231 students: 157 from Wyoming and 84 from Michigan. The process was highly competitive. Over the past decade, MSU received 100-125 complete applications from Wyoming students and roughly 120 from Michigan students each year, said Assistant Dean for Academic Initiatives and Director for Undergraduate Research Korine Wawrzynski.

Although the scholarship will not be offered to any additional students, current STARR recipients will still be funded, said Alison Gaudreau, assistant vice president of engagement at MSU. Gaudreau added that both MSU and the donors intended for the scholarship to eventually end.

“From the inception of this program, the donors’ intention was always to fund this during their lifetime,” a statement from MSU said, adding, “They built this program with the intent of knowing the recipients and seeing the result of their philanthropy.”

Wawrzynski said the STARR scholarship was one of the most generous packages at the university and it was not restricted to degree paths, allowing some students to earn multiple degrees.

“One of the intents of our donors was to fund the education of future leaders and I think they’ve done that,” Wawrzynski said.

Park County students heavily benefited from the scholarship, with 17 recipients from Powell, 16 from Cody and one from Meeteetse. That includes the class of 2018, in which three Powell High School graduates — Maddy Hanks, Hattie Pimentel and Rhett Pimentel — were selected, alongside Dan Beaudrie of Cody High School.

Hanks praised the scholarship, which she said offered her an unheard of opportunity to have a full ride to a Big 10 school.

She was encouraged to apply in her junior year, by fellow STARR recipient and Powell grad Gretchen Sciortino. Hanks remembered getting a call one evening from an MSU rep asking her to call back so they could discuss the STARR. By the time Hanks heard the message, it was too late to call back, so she spent the night anxiously awake before calling the university rep at 5:30 a.m. (7:30 a.m. in Michigan). Now in graduate school, but no longer at MSU, Hanks credits the program with helping her to find her future career as a nurse practitioner. 

“I’m so thankful for the opportunities and for the donors,” Hanks said. “I wish I could shake their hands and take them out for a nice steak dinner.”

Rhett Pimentel graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and minor in computer science last spring, while his twin sister Hattie is finishing two bachelor’s degrees in computational data science and international relations.

Because the scholarship covered education costs, Rhett Pimentel said students like himself were able to access opportunities they normally would not be able to. Rhett added that, outside of academics, the scholarship lets Wyoming students see another part of the country and meet new people. He was inspired by fellow STARR scholars he met during recipient dinners — and the generosity of the donors as well.

But all things must come to an end and Rhett Pimentel said he respects the donors’ decisions.

“Really, if you think back for 25 years, they have profoundly impacted students,” he said.