Great Expectations

A lot goes into a good education. A lot more, however, comes out of it. Just ask Steve ’89 and Emily Molony Swanson ’89, who have created the Swanson Scholar Program to get thebest and brightest students into the College of Charleston.

“Emily and I have gotten so much out of our experiences at the College,” says Steve, who himself attended the Honors College on a full scholarship. “The College had a truly profound impact on our lives. Some of the most substantive relationships of my life come from my time at the College.”

Indeed, while at the College, not only did Steve meet his wife, but he also met statistics professor Jim Hawkes and classmate Jonathan Butler ’86 – both of whom became his partners at Automated Trading Desk, where Steve was CEO. Before ATD was acquired by Citigroup in 2007, the firm recruited heavily from the College’s student body.

“These kids quickly became the engine that propelled our firm forward. They were what really made us successful,” Steve says. “Once again, the College was having an effect on my success. As I look at all the different ways that the College has helped me, it seems quite natural to give back and get these bright students into the College of Charleston.”

And so he and Emily gave $2.25 million in support of merit scholarships for top students from around the country to attend the Honors College, where they will be involved in a rigorous academic curriculum and a variety of summer enrichment programs, leadership courses and public service activities, among other things.

“I’m hoping that they have similar positive experiences that Emily and I did,” Steve says. “The College is such a unique experience, such a unique place. It changes lives, and Emily and I hope to change the lives of these kids through these scholarships.”

For Patricia Cooney of Huntsville, Ala., just receiving the scholarship was a game changer in and of itself: “The Swanson Scholarship was a great indicator that I was not only wanted at the College of Charleston, but also that I would be granted greater opportunities, better advice and more personal attention than had I gone to another institution,” she says, noting that receiving the scholarship “was not simply a way to pay for school, but a message of encouragement and support.”

“The generosity of alumni really highlights a sense of community at the College,” agrees fellow Swanson Scholar Chris Jackson of Huntersville, N.C. “It says a lot about the kind of place the College is.”

It is, it turns out, just the kind of place Parks Barroso of Knoxville, Tenn., wanted to be – though he didn’t even realize it until he received the Swanson Scholarship. “It made me look more at the school as a whole and realize that it also matched perfectly with my interests,” he says, noting that, “in addition to seeking academic success that will lead to postgraduate internships or educational opportunities, I also hope to make lifelong friendships and connections with peers, professors and other residents of Charleston.”

And, knowing the welcoming College of Charleston community, he almost certainly will.

“The College of Charleston community is so special. It has done so much for me from the very beginning, and I feel so lucky to be part of it,” says Steve. “I have faith that these kids will find the support and inspiration that we found here.”

Of course, in many ways, these students already have.

“More than just taking the financial burden off of my shoulders, the scholarship allows me to put more focus on my studies and the college experience as a whole,” says Barroso. “It already encourages my desire to be somebody who can give back to the school as an alumnus just like the extremely generous Swanson family.”

The students all agree, too, that the scholarship also motivates them to study hard and do well academically.

“Being chosen to be a Swanson Scholar is definitely an honor and provides extra motivation to work hard throughout College,” says Olivia Ghiz of Medway, Mass. “The Swansons put their trust in us, and I want to push myself to prove that their generosity is well worth it. I will stay focused and make them proud.”

“This scholarship is an affirmation of all the hard work I’ve put in, both in and out of school, and the knowledge that there are programs like this is great motivation to continue to work hard through college,” says John Zeringue, who – just like Steve – graduated from Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant and plans to major in mathematics.

Like the other scholars, Zeringue was active in extracurricular activities in high school and has received multiple academic honors. Together, he and the other scholars have an average SAT score of 1480 and an overall average weighted GPA of 4.69.

“These bright and accomplished students will set the intellectual pace for the campus and energize our culture of inquiry,” says Trisha Folds-Bennett, associate dean of the Honors College.

“That’s the goal,” notes Steve, “that, by supporting these students, we’re in turn supporting not just the Honors College and the College of Charleston, but the community at large.

“When the best and brightest go into a program like the Honors College, all boats float higher,” he continues. “The students are more engaged, the professors who teach them are more challenged, the whole College improves. And when that happens, it is good for the entire Charleston community. When you have these kinds of students in your population, everyone wins.”

In other words, there’s no limit to what you get out of it.