“We know they can do it” – Local couple transforms lives of first-generation students with new scholarship endowment

March 7, 2022
By: Rebecca Cross

Dale and Melanie Magee know how hard it is to be a first-generation college student. 

The Shrewsbury couple were both the first in their families to go to college – and both received critical financial help that set them on a path to transform their lives. “Where I grew up, it was a big deal to get out of high school,” Dr. Dale Magee, a retired obstetrician and gynecologist and public health consultant. “But I grew up hearing that if you don’t get a college education you’re really in trouble.”

Now they are making it possible for first-generation students to earn college degrees at Worcester State University.

In March 2021, the Magees pledged a scholarship of $5,000 per year ($2,500 per semester) for a first-generation student for their entire four years at Worcester State. In December, they endowed the fund with a gift of $200,000 and increased the number of recipients each year to two. Each year going forward, The Magee Family Scholarship Fund for First-Generation Students will provide $5,000 or 50 percent tuition and fees, whichever is more, to two first-generation students who require financial aid.

Some 46 percent of incoming freshmen at Worcester State University are first generation, meaning their parents did not complete a four-year degree. Scholarships often make the difference in whether a first-generation student can enroll and can stay in school. Research continues to demonstrate that students who receive at least one scholarship during their college tenure are more than 30 percent more likely to graduate on time.

“With a growing cohort of first-generation incoming freshmen at Worcester State, life-changing gifts like this will help provide the critical funding necessary to support student success,” said Thomas M. McNamara ’94, Vice President for University Advancement. “Worcester State University is incredibly fortunate to have the dedicated partnership of generous alumni and friends like the Magees who believe in the transformative power of education.” 

This is not the first scholarship the Magees have developed with public schools. Both Magees are graduates of the State University System of New York, and supporting public education is a passion. They chose Worcester State for this scholarship because it’s local, and they can stay connected with scholarship recipients. “I’ve been very pleased with the people I have met at Worcester State and the relationships that are developing,” said Dr. Magee, who also has served on the Shrewsbury School Committee since 2010.

When Melanie and Dale Magee attended college, they received support through a New York State Regent Scholarship, which paid full tuition at a state college and partial tuition at a private college. “It made all the difference,” Dr. Magee said. He is aware that the issues involved in getting a college degree are very different today, though – especially the additional financial burden a college education poses for students. While his annual college bill in the 1970s was in the hundreds, costs today are in the tens of thousands. “It’s painful to see someone going for a degree that will leave them with debt.”

The Magees hope that by relieving some of the financial burden for students, those students can focus more on their studies.

Dr. Magee is also sensitive to the added challenges first-generation students face. “Money’s not enough—some attention needs to be paid to the student.”

It can be hard for first-generation students to see family left behind and struggling. Socially, they can feel like they don’t fit in. They can experience unforeseen academic challenges such as struggling with vocabulary that students raised by college-educated parents have already been exposed to. Sometimes, they have not observed adults with long-term careers, so they have little understanding of what building a career entails.

The new Magee scholarship asks that students participate in mentoring and other programs to optimize their chances for success. Dr. Magee said he wants to see recipients of the scholarship receive guidance that helps them develop realistic goals and achieve them. He hopes that this mentorship will set students on a career path that will help them achieve financial security. “I want to see their lives transformed.”

The Magees know firsthand the changes a college degree can bring. “The benefit of a college education is multi-generational,” Dr. Magee said. The children of a first-generation college student will be more likely to go to college themselves and will enjoy the benefits that come from being raised in a household led by college-educated parents, where college is an expectation. These benefits include higher income, help with schoolwork, and access to adults who model behaviors that are expected in professional settings.

The Magees want this long-term change for the students who receive this scholarship.

“An awful lot of success in life is having somebody who believes in you,” Dr. Magee said. “We believe these students deserve to get these opportunities. We know they can do it.”

Photo: Dale and Melanie Magee first began supporting WSU and first generation students in March 2021 and their first scholarship went to Sasha Nario ’25, pictured center. The couple have now endowed The Magee Family Scholarship Fund for First Generation Students, which will be awarded to two students each year.

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