First class

Rochester City Scholars graduate this May

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A. Sue Weisler

Twenty-seven students from the Rochester City School District, pictured here, arrived on campus in 2010 as the first class of RIT’s Rochester City Scholars Program. This weekend, many will graduate to begin careers or graduate school.

The first class of Rochester City Scholars has set the academic bar high, aspiring to work in science, engineering, criminal justice and art. Accepted into RIT with strong academic records, these first students from the Rochester City School District are paving a future for themselves and other students from the district.

The program provides more than just scholarships for high-achieving students from the district. It is a significant piece of the financial puzzle for students aspiring to go to college. When RIT announced the program in 2009, it was to show that college is attainable and a lack of finances would not be an obstacle to getting a college education.

Twenty-seven students from the district received full tuition and enrolled in fall 2010. Of the first class, 21 are expected to graduate from the university in May.

Modeled after several national programs targeting high-performing students in under-represented areas, President Bill Destler and his wife, Rebecca Johnson, funded the program. It came at a time when the district was in the state and national spotlight for its declining high school graduation rates. Coupled with high rates of children living in poverty and coming from single parent homes, the district was working to manage these socio-economic challenges.

Many of the scholars, like Randy McFadden, are the first in their families to attend college. The students from that first group were valedictorians in their respective classes and currently have an average GPA of 3.0, in line with, or above, the overall average of the university. Retention of these students is among the highest at RIT. The future looks promising, with the Class of 2015 having a 90 percent retention rate; all 21 of the 2012 cohort remain at RIT.

“A lot of people have no idea of the experiences we go through,” said McFadden, a fourth-year new media marketing student and a member of the first class of Scholars. “They look at the statistics about dropouts and fewer students going into higher education. But that’s all they are basing their impressions on. They don’t know our stories.”

Web/video extra:

To see more profiles of RIT's first graduating class of Rochester City Scholars, go to

Watch a video about the program at