Students making use of the DirectConnect to UCF program will soon be receiving extra help thanks to new scholarships created with local college transfer students specifically in mind.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, the Johnson Scholarship Foundation offered a $1.5 million challenge grant to give scholarships to students with financial needs who are planning to transfer to UCF via the DirectConnect program.

DirectConnect to UCF is a unique program, started in 2006, which guarantees students at Seminole State College, Lake-Sumter Community College, Brevard Community College and Valencia College admission to UCF after earning an associate degree at one of the four participating schools.

The private, South Florida-based educational scholarship foundation has partnered with UCF’s fundraising organization, the UCF Foundation, as well as fundraising organizations at the four colleges participating in the DirectConnect program.

Funds will be raised by UCF and the colleges to match the challenge grant and to be invested. Eventually up to $4 million may be disbursed among students at the four colleges and UCF.

According to the UCF Foundation, the first scholarships are expected to be awarded in spring 2013 after a year of market investment.

To qualify for the Johnson Scholarship, students must be enrolled in the DirectConnect to UCF program, require financial assistance and have a 2.0 GPA.

Malcolm Macleod, president of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation, underscored the importance of helping students who are doing the best that they can to work their way through college and save as much money as possible, but are still having trouble affording school.

“We thought that the idea of going to a community college [before attending a university] is a good thing,” he said. “Our mission is to help disadvantaged people to attain education and employment.”

When deciding on the requirements for the scholarship, foundation directors felt that making the GPA requirement relatively low in comparison with other scholarships would be reasonable for students who may be juggling working and taking care of a family along with attending school.

Kelly Dowling, director of Regional Development at the UCF Foundation, said that the scholarship is really geared toward students who may come from a “working poor” socio-economic class.

“You don’t have to be the ‘A’ student,” Dowling said about students who will receive the scholarship. “Really it’s meant for these people that might slip through the gap if other funding wasn’t available.”

According to the UCF Office of Institutional Research, 10,391 students transferred to UCF during the 2010-2011 school year.

Of these transfer students, about 65 percent used DirectConnect to transfer from local community colleges, and 72 percent of DirectConnect transfer students required some kind of financial aid, according to the UCF Foundation’s data.

In addition to guaranteeing admission to UCF, DirectConnect was also designed to match classes offered at the community colleges with classes that students will need to take at UCF so that the transition is smoother and students don’t waste their precious time and money on unnecessary courses.

Juhi Gupta, a senior at UCF majoring in the health sciences pre-clinical program, is also a peer mentor at the UCF transfer and transition services office.

She said that the majority of students she sees come through the office used the DirectConnect program, with most of them coming from nearby Valencia College.

A transfer student herself, she said she wishes that the community college she transferred from made it as easy for her as it is for students using the DirectConnect program.

“It does make the process simpler,” Gupta said. “It gives the student an opportunity and kind of a push to go to a bigger university and complete their education.”

Dowling said that the Johnson Scholarship complements DirectConnect nicely because the money raised by the colleges will follow their students to UCF and help them throughout their college career.

Currently, it is unknown how many students will be awarded scholarships as directors aren’t yet sure how much money will be awarded to each individual student.

The scholars will be chosen collaboratively by UCF and participating colleges’ staff and are expected to be picked on a first-come, first-served basis once students meet the required financial need and GPA.

Students wishing to apply for the scholarship can do so through their college’s financial aid office when scholarships are awarded in 2013.