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WM: The Life-Changing Power of a Scholarship

Champ McCorkle ’24. Justin Santiago ’25. Max Rosa ’26. Ayden Lutes ’26.

These four students come from different backgrounds and hometowns across the country, study different majors and minors, belong to different organizations and teams, and have varying dreams for what life looks like after graduation.

Champ McCorkle ’24

But all are connected in one way.

Each one of these students says he wouldn’t have made it to and stayed at Wabash if it weren’t for the generosity of others who value a liberal arts education.

“The scholarship completely changed the trajectory of my life, my brothers’ lives, and took so much stress off my parents,” says McCorkle, a financial mathematics and philosophy double major from Greenwood, Indiana.

McCorkle was the first recipient of the Wabash Leaders Scholarship Program.

Endowed by Steve ’63 and Connie Ferguson as part of the Giant Steps Campaign, the scholarship provides support for students who exhibit a high probability of becoming a leader within their communities. It’s a renewable four-year award that covers the full cost of tuition and room and board at the College.

McCorkle, son of two small-business owners and the oldest of three sons attending Wabash, began his college search at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, foot traffic decreased substantially and the family’s businesses “took a big hit.”

“It was a tough time, and I knew financial aid had to be a big part of my college decision,” he says. “I didn’t want my parents to take on a financial burden and potentially take away any opportunities from my younger brothers.”

McCorkle, the valedictorian of his Greenwood Christian Academy class, was selected for the Wabash Leaders Scholarship after participating in a multi-phase interview process that involved alumni, members from the College’s Enrollment Office, and counseling staff from select Indiana high schools. He was chosen based on his high ethical standards, integrity, and strong written and interpersonal communication skills.

“I remember immediately driving to my parents’ work to share the news after getting the call that I was awarded the scholarship,” McCorkle recalls with a smile. “We cried happy tears together. They really wanted me to go to Wabash, and the scholarship made it possible.”

McCorkle has distinguished himself at Wabash through a variety of campus leadership roles and academic achievement. He’s a Center for Innovation, Business, and Entrepreneurship (CIBE) senior innovation consultant; a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, math club, Spanish club, crypto club, and investment club; and founder of the new sunrise and cycling clubs.

He’s also a four-year forward on Wabash’s basketball team, and was one of six players on the 2022–23 team to receive Academic Excellence honors from the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).

This past summer, McCorkle worked as a finance intern for Eli Lilly and Company.

After graduation, he plans to attend graduate school and continue studying financial mathematics or accounting.

“I wanted to go to college somewhere I would be given lots of opportunities and make lifelong connections. That happened at Wabash,” says McCorkle, who was joined at the College by his brothers, Styles ’25 and Kage ’27. “The rigorous academics, the discipline that comes with being a student-athlete, the leadership with my fraternity and clubs, working at Lilly—it has all prepared me for what’s to come.”

Steve Ferguson, chair of Bloomington-based Cook Group Inc., has had a significant impact on the state of Indiana. From public service to philanthropy, he’s been recognized for service to Indiana University as chair of its Board of Trustees, as well as chair of the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. He received an honorary degree from Wabash and is a five-time recipient of the Sagamore of the Wabash, the state’s highest honor awarded by the Indiana governor.

Justin Santiago ’25

He believes liberal arts colleges provide the right environment for honing leadership skills because they teach students how to assimilate vast amounts of information, critically analyze it, and communicate broadly. That’s why he and Connie created the Wabash Leaders Scholarship.

“We view this scholarship as a higher calling,” Ferguson explains. “Wabash develops people with integrity, honesty, and all the traits that the institution teaches. I want those people—no matter if they go into education, medicine, politics, business, or government—in leadership. I want to do all I can to support good Wabash people to go out and solve the issues that continue to face the nation.”

He and Connie are impressed by the students who have been awarded Wabash Leaders Scholarships, and are excited to see the first recipient graduate from the program this spring.

“It’s hard to believe that we’re going to see our first Wabash Leader go out into the world in a matter of months,” says Ferguson. “We have no doubt that Champ, and all others who follow him, will continue to grow, give back, and remain committed to leadership in their communities.”

Since 2020, seven students have been awarded the Wabash Leaders Scholarship.

Justin Santiago, a financial economics major and religion and business double minor from Westfield, Indiana, is a scholarship recipient.

He’s a CIBE lead innovation consultant, an executive board member of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), a member of Wabash Christian Men, and he plays the tenor saxophone in the jazz band. Santiago is also a member of the track and field and cross country teams.

“The amount of generosity gifted by Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson is truly significant,” says Santiago. “There have been moments when I’ve wondered what life would look like for me if I was at another school, and I don’t think I’d be half as happy anywhere else as I am here.

“It’s thanks to them that I’ve gained so much valuable life experience from the unique aspects of Wabash,” he continues. “The impact of that is immeasurable.”

Of the 123 new endowed funds established during the Giant Steps Campaign, 81 were scholarships for current and future Little Giants.

The Frank and Jill Navarro Family Scholarship, named in honor of former Wabash Head Football Coach Frank Navarro and his wife, Jill, awards $10,000 to at least six Pell Grant recipients each year.

The inaugural group of students to receive the Navarro Family Scholarship includes Max Rosa from Queens, New York.

Max Rosa ’26 and members of the MXIBS

Rosa grew up loving and playing football, and was determined to continue his education at a Division III school that would give him playing time and push him academically. A quick Google search put Wabash—a college more than 700 miles away from home—on his radar.

“Wabash was one of the first colleges that popped up,” says Rosa. “I applied honestly not expecting that coming here would be a reality.

“I was caught by surprise when Assistant Football Coach Olmy Olmstead ’04 reached out after I got accepted,” he continues. “He started to text me, sent a bunch of mail, and helped organize a visit. Coming to Crawfordsville was definitely a culture shock, but I felt so welcomed by everyone here and fell in love with the campus. From there, Wabash was it for me.”

Rosa admits the initial sticker price of higher education was intimidating, and he worried his family wouldn’t be able to afford sending him to school.

“My mom has sacrificed so much busting her butt to pay for my (older) brother to go to college, and she’s not really making a lot of money as it is,” he says. “When we were getting letters from different schools and learned they were going to charge us five-figures a semester in tuition alone, it was disheartening.”

Those uncertainties vanished once he learned he had been awarded a Navarro Family Scholarship.

“Mom was elated,” says Rosa. “Seeing that final number, how much the scholarship lowered my tuition, and realizing that I wouldn’t have to rely so heavily on loans made all the difference and solidified my decision to come here. We’re so thankful.”

Rosa, a psychology major, is a member of Phi Delta Theta, Wabash Liberal Arts Immersion Program (WLAIP), La Alianza, and the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies. He also is a defensive lineman on the football team and throws shot put and discus on the track and field team.

He hopes to grow as a leader over his next three years at Wabash.

“I want to become more involved on campus and pave the way for younger guys,” says Rosa. “My goal is to lead by example and show the next generation of students who come from traditionally underserved backgrounds that anything is possible at Wabash.”

Since 2018, 145 students from the greater Chicagoland area have been awarded Snodell Scholarships established by Walt Snodell ’68 and his wife, Kathy.

“Since we’re both Chicagoans, we both had the attitude that it was time to create a scholarship for Chicago kids,” says Walt, a member of the College’s Board of Trustees and chair and CEO of Peerless Industries Inc.

“Especially with the first graduating class (of 2022), we’ve seen that the program is a success,” he says. “Graduates took advantage of the opportunities. They are bright and strived for excellence. If you get in the habit of doing that during college, it will translate into a successful life after graduation in many ways.”

The Snodell Scholars program was established as part of the Greater Chicagoland Initiative, which focuses on four components: scholarships, a Chicago-based Admissions counselor, marketing, and support for recruitment events and outreach in Chicago, its suburbs, southern Wisconsin, and eastern Iowa. The initiative has also encouraged replication in places like Dallas and Fort Worth, Phoenix, and Southern California.

“We all need and get help along the way. Many times, we don’t even know it, and we’re almost never in a position to pay it back. But we can pay it forward when it’s our turn. That is what the Snodell Scholarships are all about,” Kathy told students at last year’s scholarship reception in Chicago.

“You will experience a lot at Wabash. You’ll come away from Crawfordsville having learned how to think critically, act responsibly, lead effectively, and live humanely,” she continued. “You will hear that mantra a lot in the next four years. Own it, live it, and when your time comes, pay it forward.”

ayden lutes is one snodell scholar who says he couldn’t afford college on his own. He receives up to $10,000 annually as part of the program to help cover tuition and fees.

Ayden Lutes ’26 and the Wabash wrestling team

“I’m a Wabash student because of the Snodells,” says Lutes. “It’s hard to put into words how much it really means to be given this opportunity. The scholarship has changed my life.”

The chemistry and Spanish double major from Naperville, Illinois, plays the trumpet in the jazz band, works as an athletic training aide for the Wabash Athletics Department, and studies molecular motors using WebMO as a research assistant for Chemistry Professor Joe Scanlon ’03.

Lutes is also a member of the wrestling team. He was one of seven wrestlers from the 2022–23 squad to receive Scholar All- America recognition from the National Wrestling Coaches Association (NWCA).

“Wrestling is what initially drew me to Wabash—it’s been my passion since I was a kid. The resources that we have as a Division III institution blew my mind,” says Lutes. “Once I got here, met some of the upperclassmen like ‘Mr. Wabash’ Jack Heldt ’23, and became a part of the team’s brotherhood, I knew I made the right decision. The team feels like home. Those guys push me to be better. They’re my family.”

Lutes says he’s inspired by the generosity of the Snodells and all the others who have selflessly supported students as part of the Giant Steps Campaign. As a future alumnus, he plans on giving back to his alma mater in support of the next generation.

“I want to leave a lasting legacy at Wabash, and a great way to do that, is to give back to the institution that’s helped get me there,” the sophomore says. “I believe it’s important and the right thing to do in support of making other great Wabash men.”

Learn more about the Giant Steps campaign: