Tag: Olin Fleischer Scholars

Irfaun Karim, center, a student from St. Louis University High who participated in the 2019 Fleischer Scholars program.

Irfaun Karim is a St. Louis native and rising senior from St. Louis University High School who recently attended the Olin Fleischer Scholars Program. He wrote this for the Olin Blog.

Before entering this program, I really had no clue what I was planning on doing in the future, but thankfully, I have it semi-figured out and plan on studying international business.

When one of my close teachers emailed me about the Olin Fleischer Scholars Program, I really didn’t think much about it. I let the email lose itself within the hundreds of other emails that I had stockpiled in my account while I went on with my hectic high school life.

Students in the Fleischer Scholars program in 2019, including Irfaun Karim, in yellow.
Students in the Fleischer Scholars program in 2019, including Irfaun Karim, in yellow.

A few days later, my brother sent me a video about the program, and it was at that moment when I first became somewhat interested.

Having grown up in the LOU, I know particularly well how prestigious Washington University is, so when I applied to the OFSP, I believed I had no chance of getting accepted. But to my surprise, in late June, both my brother and I received an email saying we had gotten in.

Even with all this being said, we both thought of this program as more of a burden that would ruin a precious week of our summer break instead of the actual beneficial experience that it truly is.

Now that I’ve had more than a week to reflect on all that has happened, I really am grateful for everything this program did for me. Before attending, I had had a total of zero experience being at a college campus, and also had zero experience doing anything business related.

Building lasting relationships

This program allowed me to experience true college life for the first time while also introducing me to the business world through both simple and interesting lectures done by Washington University staff, and also through open panels with alumni working at various St. Louis-based companies. Seeing how a degree in business can directly lead to a stable and successful career was one of the most impactful parts of this whole week.

This being said, while the campus and all the business related activities were both great, without a doubt the greatest thing to come out of this experience would have to be all the meaningful relationships that I built in such a short span of time.

Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that in this one week long program would I create some of the most significant friendships I had ever had. Through the joy, excitement, sleepiness, fun and laughter that comes with attending the Olin Fleischer Scholars Program, you really do build special bonds with people.

Now future scholars, if there’s one piece of advice I would give you, it would be to go into this program without being afraid of reaching out to people. This program is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to speak to and learn from world-class professors, so make sure you make the most of it.

Also, as I stated before, the people you will meet are one of a kind, so be sure to appreciate them from day one. Well that’s about it from me. Make sure to enjoy all that the 314 has to offer and go Bears!

Editor’s note:  The Olin Fleischer Scholars Program for high school students is a free, week-long residential program geared toward underrepresented and first-generation college student populations. The program is designed to expose students to the importance of a college education, leadership, and careers in business and entrepreneurship.

I’ve been to a lot of summer camps in my life, but this week was the first time I have served as a counselor. When I applied to be a Fleischer Scholars Mentor, I had no idea who else was applying, and certainly didn’t know any of the scholars, since none of them came from my suburban hometown near Dallas, Texas. So naturally, I was afraid I wouldn’t make any friends. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

It was easy to form a positive relationship with each and every scholar and mentor throughout the week, mostly because each person accepted into the program is exceptional not only as a student, but also as a person. Of course, the scholars didn’t just make friends with each other. They were able to befriend more prominent and powerful figures through the program in the business version of friendship: networking. Almost every guest who gave a presentation for the scholars gave their contact information, from deans to millionaires to professors. These speakers were also more than willing to stay behind and talk to a small crowd of scholars after the main presentation if there was extra time.

Each scholar received one-on-one time with an admissions officer who looked over their essay and gave feedback. It is worth noting that those officers are the very same people who will play a key role in deciding whether you will be admitted to WashU when (not if) you apply, so it was invaluable to the scholars to have their personal feedback ahead of time. Scholars also worked on their resumes with a communications professor who stayed until well after dark to help every scholar who needed her.
All this isn’t to say that the connections that scholars formed with each other were not just as much, if not more, valuable: during lunch and in our group chat, I heard scholars give each other information about other programs, scholarships, and their experiences touring other campuses. And, as a mentor, I also benefited from networking during this program. One Olin staff member who works in the Office of Corporate Relations traveled with us to a tour. She noticed that I was taking pictures of the group and complimented my responsibility. Next thing I knew, I had a business card in hand, along with the knowledge that her office would be looking for interns in the spring!

Each scholar’s abilities improved visibly, from public-speaking skills to writing to self-expression. Many told me personally that the week was a life-changing experience for them, and I believe they meant not just professionally, but also personally.

Before attending the program, many thought that top-rank colleges like WashU were not within their reach because of their financial situation. By the end of the program, I believe every scholar had confidence that they could not only be accepted, but also afford WashU right out of high school debt-free thanks to what they learned about federal and financial aid, as well as independent scholarship organizations, during their time as Fleischer Scholars. Many were in tears on the last day, thanking me and the other mentors simply for believing in them. It’s hard not to believe in the kind of dedicated, intelligent, kind students who apply to the Olin Fleischer Scholars Program.

In his song “Lose Yourself,” Eminem said, “you can do anything you set your mind to, man.” As a mentor, I believe wholeheartedly that is true of each and every scholar I had the pleasure of meeting during the program. I also believe that to a great degree, what you get out of life depends on what you put into it. Through our group chat and social media, I see so many scholars putting so much into their lives and am thrilled to help them sow good seeds in any way I can. I can’t wait to see what earth-shaking things these scholars do, and am so honored that I could have even a tiny part in the successes they are already having for their families, their cities, and the world. Big shout out to each of you, and to the scholars and mentors for whom you have paved the way.

A look at Ruth’s week as an Olin Fleischer Scholar Mentor. Click below to expand image. 

Editor’s note:  The Olin Fleischer Scholars Program for high school students is a free, week-long residential program geared toward underrepresented and first-generation college student populations. The program is designed to expose students to the importance of a college education, leadership, and careers in business and entrepreneurship. The program was conceived and funded by Mort Fleischer (BSBA’58).

It was an ordinary Thursday in my small Missouri town when my life changed forever. I had received a notification from my Washington University application portal that the status of my application had changed. The notification instructed me to check the portal immediately to review the status update. My head shot up towards my sister, who was sitting next to me in my bedroom, each of us nose-deep in our computers. I tried to read her the contents of the notification, but I was already worked up into an unintelligible hysteria. My sister read the email, dialed my mom’s work number on speaker, and relayed to her the situation. My mom spoke calmly, unable to hide the anxiousness that layered her own voice.

“Open the portal Lex,” she encouraged. “I believe in you, always.”

I gripped my sister with one hand and clicked the application portal with the other. My eyes lit up when I saw the words awaiting me on the screen.

“CONGRATULATIONS!! Welcome to the WashU class of 2020, Lexi!”

Two years later, I can still remember the rush of this moment. Each day as I walk the campus of Washington University, all the joy, pain, sleeplessness, worry, and courage of the journey I took to reach this school floods the back of my mind. It produces a sentimental feeling of thankfulness and pride that motivates me to make the most of my time at this university, honoring my small-town roots and the unlikely path I took to get here. You won’t hear of too many students like me: a student from a single-income household, daughter of a father with physical disabilities, resident of 15,000-person town, graduate from a non-AP or IB high school. But yet, here I am.

Within these categories, and so many others, are underrepresented students who have an extraordinary potential to succeed at a university like WashU, but are missing either the moral support, academic resources, financial factors, or belief in self to feel as if they can attend college. The Olin Fleischer Scholars Program seeks to empower students in each of these areas with resources and support so that their dreams can be realized. As a 2017 volunteer mentor for the program’s inaugural year at WashU, I saw just how transformative the week was for the high school students that attended.

Lexi, second from right, with the group of scholars she advised for their final presentation.

Twenty-eight students from across the country arrived at Washington University on July 23rd for the Fleischer Scholars program. As students checked in for their room keys and information, I could already sense shyness, sadness, worry, and even heartbreak from some of the students. While they all appeared excited to experience this opportunity, there was no question that many of the students were escaping difficult backgrounds and circumstances during their week on campus.

During the first two days, the students were attentive to speakers and activities. Mr. Mort Fleischer, Olin alumnus and founder of the Fleischer Scholars Program, spoke to students and parents about the benefits of the program and the differences that the program has already made in participants’ lives. Mr. Chris Presley, BSBA academic advisor and director of the Fleischer Program at WashU, offered his opening remarks to parents before they departed on the first day, noting that their scholar may act completely different by the end of the week. It wasn’t until the second evening that I began noticing the change that Mr. Presley had discussed.

After a full day’s work of lectures, activities, projects, and company visits, the scholars would retire to the dorms for relaxation. It was here on the second evening that I began to see them open up to one another. They ran up and down the hallway, just as I had as an excited first-year student, and grouped up in circles to chat and play games. A few scholars surrounded the six mentors that sat in the hallway to keep some kind of order. Immediately, the scholars began asking questions about college, scholarships, and life without any hesitation. I could sense their genuine interest in our responses and their hope that they could secure money for their education and a university to call their own. It reminded me of my own hope that I held onto all throughout high school, despite my own circumstances.

Lexi and Olin Fleischer Scholars at a Cardinals Game.

Each day, the scholars increasingly shared more of their backgrounds and their hope for the future. They applied techniques that they learned in lectures and conversation, taking advantage of every tool they were given for success. One such instance made me particularly proud. Earlier that morning, a “friend-spert,” expert in networking and relationships, had visited and taught the scholars how to firmly shake hands with others and introduce themselves professionally. At lunch that day, visitors from a local company came to talk with the scholars. My sandwich almost fell out of my mouth when I saw how many scholars were lined up to shake hands and introduce themselves to the company visitors. Nothing could stop them because, in that moment, nothing else mattered—not their background, not their fear, not their circumstances. All that mattered was their own willingness to achieve.

There were countless other examples throughout the week of the scholars coming out of their shells and doing incredible things. Perhaps the most notable is each scholar’s performance at the final presentation on the last day. At the beginning of the week, the scholars had been divided into groups of strangers and tasked with creating a new product or service to solve a problem in their community. They were then asked to present it to a panel of accomplished area businesspeople. Initially, the task was daunting. The scholars didn’t quite know where to begin with a group of people they didn’t know. However, as they began to learn more about business and more about one another, their confidence levels grew immensely. The scholars began to assemble their presentations and practice their speaking parts. At the final presentation, each team of scholars presented ideas that were thoughtful, creative, and innovative in a manner that was articulate, confident, and well-rehearsed. Each mentor watched as the group they had advised completed their presentation, and we couldn’t help but feel a sense of immense pride in every scholar. As the scholars exited the presentation room to celebrate their success, the looks of sadness, shyness, and anxiousness that I had seen on check-in day were completely replaced with smiles of confidence and empowerment. This week had absolutely transformed each scholar and it was evident from the inside out.

Today, a few weeks after the conclusion of the Fleischer Scholars Program, I am thinking about each of the 28 scholars that attended the program. I am imagining each scholar, a few months from today, going about their normal Thursday afternoon routine. Their eyes suddenly light up as they receive a notification they weren’t expecting. As they see all their hard work, sleepless nights, and endless dedication materialized in one word—“Congratulations!”—I know they will think of the Fleischer program and the powerful role it played as they pursued their future dreams.

A look at the inaugural Olin Fleischer Scholars class. Click below to expand image. Photos by Sid Hastings and Jerry Naunheim, Jr.