Foundation selects ’96 Puckett scholar

by Michelle Kibiger

Kirby Puckett may no longer be gracing the Metrodome with his fielding and hits, but his legacy will live on through the education of several University students.
In 1994, Puckett and his wife Tonya began the Puckett Scholars program with a $250,000 donation. To date, the program has helped fund the educations of nine University students of color.
The newest recipient is Cheng Lo, a graduate of Tartan High School in Oakdale. Lo will begin his college career at the University this fall and plans to study engineering.
“I was working real hard to try and get school paid for,” Lo said, “and it’s really going to help.”
Each Puckett scholar receives $3,000 annually for up to five years, with bonuses for achieving good grades. Students in the program who achieve a grade-point average between 3.0 and 3.49 receive an extra $1,000 per year. A GPA of 3.5 to 4.0 earns an extra $2,000 per year.
An anonymous donation to the University of Minnesota Foundation matched the Pucketts’ gift, and Wilson’s Leather contributed $50,000. Wilson’s also planned to give an extra $100 for every hit that Kirby Puckett had during the baseball season.
Robert Jones, who works in the Academic Affairs office and helps select the scholars, said Puckett’s retirement and the 1995 baseball strike cut down on the extra income the scholarship fund received.
At one time, the Pucketts hoped 15 students would receive the scholarships each year, but fund-raisers have struggled because Puckett hasn’t been playing.
Lo is the only new Puckett Scholar for 1996. In each of the past two years, the program awarded four scholarships to incoming freshman students of color.
Jones said students selected for the scholarship have very high ability and generally graduate near the top of their high school classes. He also said the students have demonstrated some financial need as well.
“These are the kinds of things that the Pucketts’ really wanted to address,” Jones said. “The students have done quite well. They have a lot of drive and determination.”
Officials for the program must review 400 to 500 applications each year. Jones said students are initially identified as applicants for the Katz and President’s Outstanding Minority Student scholarships. Then a group of committees representing several ethnic groups review the applications and make nominations.
Students involved in the program said they are impressed with the Pucketts’ involvement in the program. They expressed how honored they were to be chosen as Puckett scholars.
“It’s cool, in that Kirby Puckett was one of my heroes growing up,” Lo said.
Yadira Garcias, a 1995 recipient, said it was great to be part of such a select group. She said it was amazing how much the Pucketts really care about the students in the program.
“It pushed you to do better,” Garcias said. “I’m doing this for myself, but especially for (Kirby).”
The Puckett Scholars endowment fund is managed by the University of Minnesota Foundation. The foundation manages $300 million in endowments and helps raise about $60 million annually for the University.