Yaye-Mah Boye, a senior civil engineering major at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y., left her family behind in Senegal, Africa, a few years ago to study in the U.S. The 25-year-old’s decision also left her financially on her own. Winning an industry-sponsored scholarship has helped make the difference between earning her degree this May and getting a job in transportation engineering, or dropping out, she says.

Boye, who carries a 3.56 grade point average in notoriously tough engineering, was one of 170 students awarded a $1,000 scholarship last month through the largess of the Society of American Military Engineers’ New York City-based post, the national group’s largest chapter. Through long-term endowments and donations by members and others in the engineering and construction industry, the SAME post has amassed a principal of close to $3.4 million.

Scholarships are awarded from the fund’s earnings. The principal is untouched, with the goal to keep it growing. The post’s account has been doing that since it started in 1961, with $20,000. "Our scholarships don’t go in the financial aid package," says Bud Griffis, president of the post’s scholarship fund and director of Polytechnic’s construction management program. "The check goes to the student."

With college expenses at all-time highs, more students look to outside assistance to survive in school. Like SAME, other industry groups have stepped in with scholarship funds that they hope will keep students motivated to stay in engineering and construction through college, and beyond.

Beneficiaries. College scholarship winners dressed up last month in Manhattan to accept military engineers’ largess at black tie event.

"Tuition costs are going up like a helium balloon," says Peter K.W. Wert, a retired contractor who is president of the Associated General Contractors’ Education and Research Foundation. Its scholarship endowment principal stands at about $3 million, which allowed about 130 awards of $2,000 each in 2003. Students in civil engineering and construction management can win AGC scholarships up to three years in a row if they qualify academically. Wert says the current goal is to double the fund size in five years.

Despite the mission, raising scholarship money is not always easy. Wert admits that the AGC fund took a pounding from the falling stock market "in the dark days," and can still suffer when contractor profits do. Some observers worry that the fundraising can’t keep pace with tuition hikes. The University of Maryland now costs $28,000 a year for out-of-state students and $17,000 for instate, says Radka Nebesky, assistant director of development for its A. James Clark School of Engineering. She says 67% of undergrads now depend on financial aid. Federal assistance is usually in the form of loans, which leave students deep in debt when they graduate, says Nebesky.


"We don’t see full-ride scholarships anymore," says Charles Gains, a construction management professor at Boise State University and a vice president of the Associated Schools of Construction. "Meanwhile it’s tougher to maintain GPA when you have to sling the proverbial hamburger" to stay in school.

Nate Crofts faced that dilemma while a Boise State CM major several years ago. He faced a costly personal medical crisis that forced him to quit school for a time. A $1,000 scholarship from the school helped him to afford costly textbooks. "Just that little extra bit helped," he says. Crofts is now a project manager for the CM Co., Boise, a $30-million building contractor and CM firm.

Things could get tougher with Congress’ decision last month to again cap the maximum level of so-called Pell Grants that benefit up to 1.2 million college students. The change also would cut off thousands of students who now receive the grants. Observers also worry that the proposal could affect how colleges set their own financial aid formulas.

To counter such trends, more industry group scholarship administrators are pushing donors hard to raise the ante, and new groups are jumping in to the scholarship pool. The Moles, a New Jersey-based group of practitioners in heavy construction, aims to add $2 million to its current $1.5-million endowment, says Executive Director Gerry Carty.

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The Beavers, a Los Altos, Calif.-based heavy contractor association, is in the collection phase of a major fundraising effort that will increase its scholarship trust’s endowment to about $6.5 million by the end of the year, says Douglas A. Johnson, trust chairman and former president of now-defunct Al Johnson Construction Co., Minneapolis. In 2005, the trust will distribute about $300,000 in scholarships, up from $240,000 in 2004. Among other stipulations, Beavers scholarship winners must be U.S. citizens because "we’re U.S. contractors and we want to train people for our members," says Johnson.

Balance. Students are finding it tougher to focus on studies and keep afloat financially.

A number of engineering firms and contractors also fund scholarships, either through favored universities or directly to students. Omaha-based Peter Kiewit Sons’ provides tuition assistance to some of its interns. "It’s not an official program but if we have an outstanding intern that we want to see succeed, we will help them," says a company spokesman.

But sometimes students change their mind on the construction industry as a career choice despite financial aid. "We’re not always as attractive an industry as we think we are," says Michael Goodrich, chairman and CEO of BE&K Inc., Birmingham.

At least one new donor is looking ahead to insure its own survival, as well as the industry’s. This summer, Kimmel & Associates, an Asheville, N.C., executive search firm whose clients largely include general contractors and subcontractors, announced it is setting up a scholarship fund for students with family ties to the industry.

Kimmel President Joe Kimmel is funding the program, which could award up to 100 scholarships at $1,000 each, says firm General Manager Joe Vockley. He says the first award could be made as early as the spring semester.