STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — What was once a Penn State fraternity house is now a scholarship house for high-achieving former golf caddies.
The Evans Scholar House welcomed its first class of students this August to the former Sigma Nu Fraternity house. The fraternity — which was in good standing with Penn State — was suspended in 2018 by its national chapter for not having enough members choose to live in the fraternity house, said university spokeswoman Lisa Powers.
Going from fraternity to scholarship house has been an interesting transition, said Evans Scholars House President Evan Manna, a senior from Buffalo, New York.
Without clear signage, community members, students and visitors sometimes think the Burrowes Road house is still a fraternity, he said. But the scholarship house hopes to get a large lawn sign, he said, and start doing more community service projects to raise its profile around town.
"We want people to know that we are a scholarship organization, we just had our first service project the other day, we will be giving back to the community," he said.
About 200 Evans Scholars are selected from a pool of 800 applicants by the Western Golf Association every year to receive full tuition and housing at one of 18 universities that participates in the program. Though Penn State accepted its first class of Evans Scholars five years ago, it is the most recent university to have a scholarship house on campus. Each scholar must be high achieving, caddy for a golf course in high school and demonstrate financial need.
"Without this scholarship a lot of us probably wouldn't be here," said sophomore Parker Bria, who is from Abington. She said she found out about the Evans and Philadelphia-specific J. Wood Platt scholarships while playing golf through the Police Athletic League of Philadelphia, and thought it might be her ticket to a great school.
"I know I probably couldn't afford this place if I didn't get this scholarship," she said. "This scholarship did allow a lot of us to get a higher level education."
Sarah Ferriter, a junior from Chicago, is the first in her family to attend college. She said when her father found out about the Evans Scholars program through his work at a local golf course, he said, "Here's the sign that you can go to college."
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Having a house on campus has given each of the 40 scholars in the Penn State house a sense of community they hadn't found before.
"It's just nice having those resources within the house, and just being able to go knock on someone's door if you have a question about class, or you need help on homework, or just anything about Penn State," said Manna.
About eight or nine of the Penn State's house current members came by way of the Caddy Academy, in which high school girls from underserved areas in Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., live in the University of Illinois dorms and caddy for two weeks over the summer. Caddy Academy members are more likely to be picked for Evans or J. Wood Platt scholarships, said Manna.
"I think it adds a great aspect to our house, just getting views and ideas from all different kinds of backgrounds," he said. "I think that's one of the coolest things about our house is how diverse we are, and how many ideas we have in here, and different personalities from different places."
Chris Black, a sophomore from New Jersey, said the diversity of backgrounds in the house "is what makes this house so great. Everyone has different paths to getting here and different stories."
The Evans Scholars House lobbied to allow freshmen to live in the house, which Penn State initially didn't want, said Manna. But students say the mix of upper and lowerclassmen is what gives the house strength as a community.
"(The freshmen) have people now to help them, which is something I didn't have last year," said Bria.
WGA also requires a mentor program for each scholarship house, which pairs a lowerclassman with an upperclassman for help with academics and adjusting to student life. Black said he often talks with his mentee about his transition to school, what's on his mind and how scholarship house life can be improved.
To encourage good academic habits, all freshmen in the house are required to have study or homework time from 7-9 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday. Bria said the house's study room is a nice addition for freshmen who might otherwise have to trek to the library or the HUB if they were living in the dorms.
Evans Scholars don't have to major in anything golf related, though Manna said there is one scholar at Penn State majoring in professional golf management. They enjoy a summer and a winter outing every year in Chicago, which function as summits for all the Evans Scholars around the country to meet and share ideas on group living and maintaining scholarship and service.
At the Penn State house, scholars can also take advantage of a game room with a pool table, two large lounges for studying, playing games or watching television, a kitchen and a large designated study room.
Powers said at the time Sigma Nu Fraternity was suspended in May 2018, the university was working with the Evans Scholars and J. Wood Platt Scholars on the development of their program at Penn State. The term of Sigma Nu's suspension has not been specified, said Robert Nelson, president of Delta Delta Property Association of Sigma Nu Fraternity, which owns the house.
"It was a multiyear conversation to bring the program to Penn State, and assist them in getting set up here. A number of administrators and offices were involved, including the Provost's Office, Undergraduate Education, Admissions, Housing & Food Services and Student Affairs," Powers said.
The Evans Scholars and J. Wood Platt group reached an agreement with the Delta Delta Property Association to lease the house for five years, according to Powers and Nelson.
Nelson said the fraternity hopes to re-establish a collegiate chapter at Penn State, and is planning to work with the general fraternity, Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc., "to do so when the time is right."
© 2020 Associated Press