Up, Up, and Away

It’s signing day at Klamath Union High School. Virtually the entire student body fills the auditorium to watch as senior Hayden Dentinger—a stand-out track, cross-country, and basketball athlete—poises, pen in hand, before committing to attend the UO in fall 2017. As the fight song blares and the Duck gyrates and photographers snap pictures, Hayden puts pen to paper while his parents and siblings—clustered around him against a green-and-yellow backdrop—grin, and his grandma squints back tears.

The event has all the trappings of a football recruit signing day. But Hayden’s athletic prowess isn’t what got him to center stage on that day in April. Hayden—a top student, a multi-instrument musician, active in extracurriculars ranging from SMART (Start Making a Reader Today, a volunteer literacy program) to DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America, a business-marketing student organization) and one of the state’s stand-out graduating high school seniors of 2017—was there to accept a Stamps Scholarship: the most generous scholarship offered at the UO, and one of the most prestigious scholarships in the country. Along with four other top students from around Oregon, Hayden will enter the UO’s Robert Donald Clark Honors College next fall with his tuition, his room-and-board, and more entirely covered.

Hayden’s will be the fifth class of Stamps Scholars to attend Oregon. Their scholarships are the result of a remarkable partnership with the Stamps Foundation, an Atlanta-based family foundation whose merit scholarship program was designed to help exceptional students become meaningful leaders throughout society. Launched at Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan in 2006, the Stamps Scholarship Program now partners with 35 universities across the country to offer the Stamps Scholarship, which provides free tuition, housing, and $12,000 in enrichment funds, which many students use to study abroad. The UO is one of just a handful of universities west of the Rockies that partners with Stamps. And in acknowledgment of the esteem the foundation holds for the university, the partners announced in April that the number of Stamps Scholars entering Oregon will double in fall 2018, allowing the UO to begin offering 10 Stamps Scholarships annually: five to in-state students, as it has since 2013, and five more to out-of-state students.

“I’m blown away by the incredible range of opportunities open to students at the UO: the instruction, the study abroad, all the student activities, the leadership development,” said Randy McDow, executive director of the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation. “I wish I could be an undergraduate at the University of Oregon right now. It’s a school that I’d want my own kids to look at.”

With most of its partner schools in the South and Northeast, the Atlanta-based Stamps Foundation took its first look at the University of Oregon in 2011, when McDow, planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, arranged to visit the campus for the first time to meet with administrators. Two years of e-mails and phone calls and a couple of trips to Atlanta followed, culminating in the first class of five Stamps Scholars hitting campus in fall 2013. 

“It’s been great for us to be part of Stamps,” says Roger Thompson, UO vice president for student services and enrollment management. “It helps us be competitive for students who have options all over the country. It just pays off for the UO in so many ways.”

The Stamps Scholarship is unquestionably a big deal. All Stamps Scholars are automatically admitted to the Clark Honors College. They attend conferences in Atlanta with Stamps Scholars from throughout the country. At Oregon they form a small cohort that—as varied as their academic interests may be—has in common a certain drive and curiosity and ambition. That bonding probably starts at Top Scholars Day, when UO brings 18 Stamps semifinalists and their parents to campus to tour, interview, and dine with deans and leading faculty members. Only five Oregon students are ultimately offered the Stamps Scholarship. But to become a semifinalist in itself is an honor; it’s not unusual for runners-up to be offered other types of support to entice them to Oregon.

Then, for the fortunate five, comes signing day. Vice President Thompson travels to the students’ schools along with others from the UO financial aid office. The Duck is there, of course, joining administrators and teachers from the student’s high school (and, in Hayden’s case, middle school). Sometimes it’s an informal if heady affair. At other schools—Klamath Union, for instance, heralding Klamath Falls’ first Stamps Scholar—it’s headline news. Appropriately so: one student’s life, and with it, his or her family’s, is about to change, and certainly the larger community in ways that can’t be foreseen. 

Thompson sees the benefits of the Stamps Scholarship to the UO echoing down the years in a multitude of ways.

“First, we join a pretty prestigious group of institutions that have the Stamps—University of Chicago, UC Berkeley, Dartmouth,” Thompson says. “The Stamps family has lofty ambitions; they would like the Stamps to ultimately be equated with the Rhodes Scholarship”—which annually sends 32 top American scholars to graduate school at the University of Oxford (Stamps Scholars among them). “My hope is that, in 25 or 30 years, Stamps will be one of the most sought-after scholarships in the country, and the UO is one of the charter members.”

“It also puts us in competition for the very best students around the state,” he says, including small towns where attending Oregon is considered less of an option. “I hope that, as we expand the program, we get to see incredible students from the other 49 states as well.”

The bottom line, he says, is that these are extremely talented students who, by virtue of their four years at Oregon, will represent the best of the university throughout their lives. “I do wonder what the impact of these students will be over the coming decades,” Thompson muses. “I think they’re going to go off and do great things and be outstanding Ducks.”

Ruby O’Connor

As early as high school, Ruby O’Connor, BA ’17, was interested in the Middle East, but not until she arrived at Oregon as a Stamps Scholar in 2013 did she start studying Arabic. “I always had the idea that I wanted to somehow improve life for others, not just within our borders,” Ruby recalls. “What was necessary first was to get a holistic education, across different subject areas, and to learn to think critically. My time here at the UO has enabled me to do that.” Her proficiency in Arabic was greatly advanced by spending her junior year in Amman, Jordan. “The Stamps Scholarship has been an opportunity to study what I want to study, and to travel, and to learn about myself and the world,” Ruby says. “At the UO, I think I discovered my strengths, and by helping my classmates I found that I’m good at teaching and explaining things. I’d like to
use that to open the world to more people.”

Ruby wound up majoring in international studies, with a minor in Arabic. She is currently investigating options for graduate studies in Arabic, with the hope of one day teaching the language at the college level or—an even more exciting prospect for her—high school. “I think it’s so important to learn about other cultures,” she says. “When you study Arabic, you inevitably learn about Islam and Mideast politics—all these things we don’t normally learn.

“It helps you widen your view.”

Kaylee Tornay

Bend native and journalism major Kaylee Tornay, BS ’17, took her first trip overseas during the summer after her freshman year, when—courtesy of her Stamps Scholarship—she traveled to London to study political and business journalism. As a senior, she visited Sri Lanka with a team of other UO students to document how that country was recovering from civil war and the devastation wrought by a tsunami six years earlier. 

But it was an unpaid summer internship at a local online news startup in Philadelphia—an opportunity she was able to grab thanks to support from the Stamps Scholarship—that had the most impact on her thinking about the future of journalism and her role in it. 

Kaylee went to work for Spirited Media, a new, all-online, local-only news site targeting the under-40 demographic. It launched in Philadelphia less than two years before Kaylee joined the staff as an intern in 2016, editing and creating new content. The company now has news outlets in three cities, with plans to expand further.

“It taught me what it’s like to work for a local media outlet that isn’t necessarily concerned with being the first to break news, but one that’s more focused on community engagement,” Kaylee said. “I think that’s where journalism is headed, and I think it will help restore people’s trust in media. They’re blazing new trails. The industry is watching this company, because they’re doing with local media what people want to be doing, and they’re doing it in big urban markets.”

Kaylee is currently pursuing work as a reporter.

Candace Joyner

Candace Joyner, BS ’17, grew up in a small town dreaming of a career in international diplomacy. The first step in her plan: attend a small liberal arts college as far away from Oregon as possible.

Accepting the Stamps Scholarship would quash her plan to flee Oregon—the UO is barely a half-hour from her hometown of Dexter—but it was an opportunity she couldn’t turn down. She would be studying at the Clark Honors College—a small liberal arts college-within-a-university—and the Stamps enrichment fund would give her the chance to travel overseas, a first for her. By summer of her sophomore year, Candace was attending a
study-abroad program in international relations and multilateral diplomacy in Geneva, Switzerland. 

It was there, at the headquarters of the International Committee of the Red Cross, talking with people who worked around the world helping to resettle refugees and providing mental health services to people in unstable situations, that she had her aha moment, Candace says. “I realized I can take what I learn from different cultures and apply it in this country.” In the end, she says, she was glad circumstances conspired—in the form of the Stamps Scholarship—to keep her in Oregon for college. “Going abroad was a wonderful experience. It reminded me how much we need to do in our own communities to create really healthy communities that can sustain themselves.” The Stamps Scholarship, she says, “allowed me to stay in this community that I had already put work into.”


—By Bonnie Henderson

Journalist Bonnie Henderson, BA ’79, MA ’85, is the author of four books, including The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast.