PARIS — Two young women from Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s class of 2021 have nabbed what the website scholarships.com terms the “holy grail” of college scholarships.

OHCHS 2021 grad Lauren Davidson of West Paris is attending USM on a full scholarship. Also pictured, OHCHS Principal Ted Moccia. Supplied photo

Lauren Davidson of West Paris and Madison Long of South Paris were both awarded with the University of Southern Maine’s Promise Scholarship, a program that bridges college expenses beyond students’ other financial aid packages to enable them to graduate in four years debt-free.

In its fourth year, 83 students currently attend USM as part of the program. Its first cohort group is in its senior year.

The scholarships are awarded by a committee composed of enrollment and foundation staff members, according to Jared Cash, USM’s vice president for Enrollment Management and Marketing, who is also an Oxford Hills alum and vice-chair of SAD 17’s School Board. Davidson and Long are the third and fourth students from OHCHS who have earned Promise Scholarships.

“The selections [of students] are based on four primary areas,” Cash explained in an email statement. “Community involvement, academic promise, financial need, and resilience. The program offers both scholarship and mentorship and support.

“Promise Scholars bring richly diverse life experiences and talents to our campuses. We admire Promise Scholars for what they have accomplished in their respective communities and for what they will accomplish as future graduates of our university.”

Davidson learned about the scholarship while participating in the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute. The organization hosts a Google database of scholarships available to Maine students. Davidson had already accepted enrollment to USM when the scholarship caught her attention.

“I remember thinking, ‘this would be a really good one to apply to,’” Davidson said. “I was kind of hesitant. I thought there would be no way I’d get such an amazing scholarship. Then finally, I decided it couldn’t hurt so I applied to it. Less than a month later I got an email from the director that I had won.

“I was so surprised. For a minute I thought it wasn’t real.”

Davidson had applied to USM in December of 2020. After she was accepted she did not immediately enroll, feeling it was too early to put down her deposit. Her first choice had been the University of Tampa, a private and much more expensive college that had also sent her a letter approving her application.

But within weeks Davidson decided to attend USM instead. With the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 and the countrywide surge last winter she felt going to school closer to home would be a more stable experience. She then applied for the Promise Scholarship.

“After I got the scholarship, it was like, ‘I made the perfect decision for me,’” Davidson said.

Davidson is double-majoring in criminology and psychology, with an eye towards an eventual PhD degree and career as a forensic psychologist working with youth in the criminal system, either at the state level or in the FBI.

Madison Long of South Paris is attending USM with the assistance of the Promise Scholarship, one of 25 full scholarships awarded to Maine high school students who graduated in 2021. She is majoring in elementary education. Supplied image

Long learned about the scholarship while working at Camp Susan Curtis in Stoneham. It was during her second year as a counselor. She had also spent summers there as a camper for eight years. Long’s supervisor, Camp Director Terri Mulks, encouraged her to apply for the scholarship.

“I knew other staff members who were a part of the scholarship,” Long said.

As with Davidson, Long’s initial college plan was to attend a different school, in her case Plymouth State University in New Hampshire. She changed her mind after a series of miscommunications with the school and decided that USM was actually the better option for her.

She is studying elementary education, with a concentration in history and will continue at USM to get her teacher’s certification through the Extended Teacher Education Program. ETEP is a fifth year of study where students can earn their master’s degree in education at the end.

Long plans to teach third or fourth grade after wrapping up her college career and intends to remain in Maine.

“I’ve always really liked learning and helping others,” Long said. “And I’ve always like working with children. They’re such characters, especially the younger ones.”

Lauren Davidson of West Paris is double majoring in criminology and psychology at USM. Supplied photo

Davidson and Long are two of 25 USM students who started their freshmen year courtesy of the Promise Scholarship. Cash hopes that more Oxford Hills graduates will participate.

“For those interested in applying for the USM Promise Scholarship, applications will be accepted from Dec. 15th through March 15th for (first-year & transfer) students entering USM in Fall 2022,” Cash wrote.

More information about the Promise Scholarship and the impact it has had on Maine students pursuing undergraduate education can be found on USM’s Office of Affairs website at https://usm.maine.edu/publicaffairs/usm-welcomes-largest-cohort-promise-scholars-program-moves-mountains.

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