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Financing a Dream

Costco Scholarship Fund celebrates a decade of support for students in need

by Julie Monahan2009_fall_financing_main

Costco Scholars alumni Chris Holder, ’03, and Analisa Castañeda, ’05, credit the scholarship program with providing them the resources to achieve success.

Photo by Doug Ogle


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Since it began 10 years ago this year, the Costco Scholarship Fund has provided invaluable financial assistance to hundreds of underrepresented minority students. For many of the scholarship recipients, it’s made all the difference in actualizing their college aspirations.

Each year Seattle University and the University of Washington alternate hosting duties for the annual Costco Scholarship Fund Breakfast, the year’s biggest fundraising effort to raise scholarship dollars for students at both universities. Since it began, 579 students from Seattle U—including current students and alumni—have received scholarships.

Started by Costco’s co-founders, President and CEO Jim Sinegal and Chairman Jeff Brotman, the fund awarded $250,000 in scholarships in the 2000–2001 academic year. In 2008 the fund raised more than $3 million, bringing its decade-long total to more than $15 million, mostly donated by Costco employees and suppliers at the annual breakfast.

“Costco scholars have changed the face of enrollment,” says Jim White, associate provost at Seattle University. “In 10 years, the number of underrepresented minority students has increased. Retention rates have increased as well.”

This student retention and graduation rate is an important and valuable outcome of the scholarship program, notes Bob Craves of the College Success Foundation. “It’s great to be able to provide access to college with the Costco Scholarship Fund but an even greater measure of success is seeing such deserving scholars stay in school and graduate,” Craves says.

Being chosen made me feel like they really cared about the financial burdens of students.
—Chris Holder, ’03
one of the first Costco Scholars

According to White, the percentage of African Americans graduating from SU in six years rose from 56 percent in the 1992–93 academic year to 87 percent in 2002–03. For Hispanic and Latino students, the rate increased from 53 percent in 1992–93 to 74 percent in 2002–03. “That’s a pretty significant accomplishment,” White says.

Qualifying students on average receive about $6,300 in annual scholarship support, but the program goes beyond dollars. The Costco Scholars breakfast provides an opportunity for students to network and demonstrate the skills and intelligence that make them so deserving of support. Just having a program such as the Costco Scholars also says something about Costco as a company and the university itself, White says. “We’re reaching out and telling these students that we believe in them and that they can be successful,” he says. “That’s a powerful message.”

Chris Holder, ’03, was among the first to hear that message after being named one of the early Costco Scholars. “Being chosen made me feel like they really cared about the financial burdens of students,” he says.

Holder brought those financial challenges to light in his own impassioned speech at the first breakfast. His topic was the cost of education, particularly for underrepresented minority students addressed through the lens of personal experience.

“I talked about the burden on my family and how hard it would be to continue accumulating loans,” says Holder. Now a naturopathic physician and acupuncturist working at an oncology and neurology clinic, Holder was seriously considering whether to quit school, mostly because of the cost, before he became a Costco Scholar.

Analisa Castañeda, ’05, was a Costco Scholar in the program’s fifth year. While the financial support helped her finish school, it was the networking opportunities that quickly turned her degree into a job after graduation.

At a reception hosted by Sinegal before the breakfast, Castañeda met her boss-to-be, an executive with a Costco supplier. The two hit it off and stayed in touch. Although that supplier eventually went bankrupt, Castañeda now works with another Costco supplier, Weider Nutrition Group.

“Costco does a great job of providing networking opportunities for the scholars,” she says. These opportunities include internships, invitations to other networking events and consultations with the company’s human resources staff on interviewing skills.

“It’s an investment for the company and an investment in their future workforce,” Castañeda says. Today she does some giving back of her own as a co-leader of the SU Costco Scholars Alumni Chapter.

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