marian l. heard scholars

Why our Marian L. Heard Scholars defy statistics

For these first generation college students, having a Marian L. Heard Scholars mentor has made all the difference.

Carolyn Murphy likes to Facetime every month with her Marian L. Heard Scholar mentee, Glorimar Estevez, so she can see her facial expressions and know that everything is okay. As a mother of a college student herself, Carolyn knows firsthand the stress and anxiety that college students deal with everyday.

Adjusting to college life can be difficult for any family. But for first generation college students and their families, which make up the majority of United Way’s Marian L. Heard Scholars, it is particularly overwhelming. In fact, research shows that 90% of low-income and minority students do not graduate college on time.

Our Scholars defy this trend, with more than 81% earning a bachelor’s degree within 4 years.  One of the biggest reasons for their success is not just the $10,000 scholarship they receive, but the e-Coach, a volunteer mentor who is matched with each student to help them through all 4 years college.

Robbie Catchings, another e-Coach, understands the stress of putting yourself through college, having worked three jobs in college to pay for tuition and living expenses herself. Helping alleviate the immense pressure that she felt by being an e-Coach was an opportunity she couldn’t resist, especially with her own daughter also in college.


For Carolyn, who is also a United Way board member, it was about paying it forward.

“I’m fortunate to have the ability to help my daughter get through college. And I was fortunate to have my mom, who went to the same college I did, to help me,” said Carolyn. “I’m busy, but at the end of the day, I do have time. And when it comes to helping others, I’ve always believed that ‘If you can, you should.’”

And so she did – Facetiming with Glorimar and helping her with all the questions that come with life as a college freshman – reminding her to back up her papers in case her computer crashes, talking about which campus organizations to get involved with, and sending a care package during finals.

The transition was harder on Glorimar than she expected, so the extra support made a big difference. “Carolyn has really helped me during my ups and downs here at UMass Amherst,” she said. “I love having an e-Coach because she has guided me and makes sure that I am doing okay.”

Glorimar wasn’t the only Scholar who struggled in her freshman year. Adrelys Mateo Santana, also freshman at UMass Amherst, was matched with Robbie Catchings as her e-Coach. The two formed a quick connection that would make a real impact on Adrelys’ first year of school.

“My first year of college was quite tough for me and Robbie was really helpful by giving me advice and making sure I knew about the resources that my school offers to help students like me who are still trying to figure out how everything works,” Adrelys said. “She was also very understanding of everything me and my family were going through with this transition.”

“We’re similar students,” said Robbie. “And having a daughter in college, I understand how it affects the whole family and how difficult it is for everyone to adjust to being away from home. I think I was able to help give her some perspective on those family dynamics.”

And when Adrelys decided to change her major, Robbie was a valuable sounding board. “I give her a lot of credit for realizing early on that it wasn’t the best fit, for finding the resources to help her and learning throughout the year how to find balance.”


While Glorimar and Adrelys are both fortunate to have supportive families, as first generation college students, this is a brand new journey for all of them and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and veer off course.

As a co-chair of the Marian L. Heard Scholars Selection Committee, the group of volunteers who help review applications and award the scholarships, Robbie knows just how much this scholarship means for the students and their families.

“When you read these applications, some of them are incredibly emotional. The things they’ve had to overcome, and yet they still have so much optimism and an ability to somehow push forward and be better than what they’ve experienced. It’s incredible,” said Robbie.

“The money is important, but I think the reason our Scholars are able to graduate and do so well is because they have access to resources like United Way and the e-Coaches to help troubleshoot when they get stuck. That safety net makes all the difference.”

Both Glorimar and Adrelys had challenges adjusting in their first year, but their own perseverance and initiative, combined with having a trusted outside adviser to lean on, has set them up for success.

In fact, the support has meant so much to Glorimar that she has already been inspired to pay it forward. Carolyn’s mentorship was one of the reasons she decided to become a Peer Mentor next year at UMass to help other incoming freshmen.

“I am so proud of her,” said Carolyn. “And she’s just getting started!”

United Way still needs volunteers to mentor the new class of Scholars. If you’re interested in becoming an e-Coach or helping support the Marian L. Heard Scholars, email Dahlia Cox.