A scholarship fund that began as an idea of a recent graduate that led to a phone call to the alumni office has come to fruition. The first African American Scholarship, begun five years ago by a recent University of Central Arkansas graduate, has seen its first recipient.
Desirae Thomas, a 2002 graduate of UCA, wanted to give back to her community, the Arkansas Delta region. The area, mostly rural and dominated by farms taking advantage of the rich soil along the Arkansas River, is home to blues festivals and one of the lowest population densities in the state.
Growing up in Marvell in Phillips County, and graduating from high school in Crossett in Ashley County, Thomas said she began contributing to the scholarship fund in 2007, just five years after graduating from UCA with a degree in history and a minor in computer information systems.
“I’m a product of the Delta region,” Thomas said. “There aren’t as many opportunities go to school and get an education. The opportunities are not sufficient.”
The $500 scholarship was awarded to Mayah Thomas, a freshman computer science major from Dumas, who plays piccolo in the UCA band.
Mayah Thomas, who is no relation to Desirae Thomas, said she is honored to have received the first scholarship.
“I’m just so grateful and happy to have this and the opportunity to attend UCA,” Mayah Thomas said.
The scholarship is for African American students attending UCA from the Arkansas Delta region. There is also a GPA requirement.
Thomas said she wanted to ensure that the recipients had “high academic standards” and that they would be able to retain the scholarship throughout their college career.
Thomas, who lives in Memphis and works in management at Kroger grocery stores, said she also encouraged her family and friends to donate to the scholarship and hopes it can be given to two students next year.
“I hope that one day this can be a full scholarship and benefit lots of students,” Thomas said.
Mayah Thomas said she chose UCA because of the atmosphere.
“I look forward to going to class. I just love it,” she said.
“Something that my Mom always said was ‘the more you know the farther you go.’” Thomas said during a recent interview. “Especially now, you really need an education in order to make any type of advancement.”
She added that she sees the scholarship as her opportunity to encourage African American students to attend UCA.
Mayah Thomas said she hopes to give back, as well, and donate to the scholarship after she graduates.
“I know there’s going to be some hard times in college, but because of my donor being from where I’m from and knowing that some kids don’t really go to college, it just inspired me to do my best and graduate so I can have a good career,” Thomas said.