As a rabid Ohio State football fan, one scholarship opportunity leapt out at Sam Casto before starting his freshman year four years ago: The Stadium Scholarship Program.
When he was awarded the scholarship, Casto was welcomed into a program with a legacy like few others on any college campus. That’s because the program’s roots grew from the iconic Ohio Stadium.
“Growing up a Buckeye fan, I wanted to be part of something heavily connected to a tradition within the university,” says Casto, who graduated in spring with a degree in welding engineering. “A program like this, with its legacy, I wanted to be part of that.”
From 1933 to 1999, the west side of the Horseshoe housed the Stadium Scholarship Dormitory, which started after then-Dean of Men Joseph Park envisioned it being a way to make college more affordable and accessible for those who demonstrated academic merit.
Bruce McPheron lived in the Stadium Scholarship Dorm from 1972-76 and served as Ohio State’s provost and executive vice president from 2016 to 2021. He says the Stadium Scholarships illustrate Ohio State’s historic desire to make access to a college education affordable. Today, President Kristina M. Johnson’s Scarlet & Gray Advantage Program is a perfect example of that.
“Every leader on campus makes this a priority and it’s a wicked complex problem. But it’s part of the fabric of Ohio State that we have found ways to creatively address the issue of affordability of a college education,” McPheron says. “Having a portion of your students living in the football stadium is a unique example of ways Ohio State has accomplished that goal.”
In 1999, the program relocated, first to Mack Hall and then to Scholars House East and West. Despite the moves, the legacy of the program remains intact, providing a strong community for those in the program while significantly cutting room and board costs for students who demonstrate academic achievement and financial need.
“Honestly, it was one of the bigger scholarships I got and helped me stay at Ohio State,” says Casto, one of many first-generation students the program has supported throughout the decades. “Without it, I probably would be in a completely different field somewhere else, doing something I didn’t set out to do.”
Ohio State has the only ABET-accredited undergraduate program for welding engineering in the Western Hemisphere, making it critical to Casto’s career that he remain here. And it paid off, Casto began his career as a welding engineer at Schaeffler Transmission Systems in Wooster this summer.
Matt Ocheltree gained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State after being part of the first group of Stadium Scholars to live in Mack Hall. Those who lived in Mack Hall, along with those who lived in the Stadium Dorm, had job obligations as part of the scholarship – cooking, cleaning, serving food and other duties to maintain the dorms.
“It was dirty and not always fun but it really made for good community spirit,” Ocheltree says. “One of the things I’ve heard the most about the program, and I’ll say this myself, is it made such a big school feel small. It felt like a family. I met my wife there and most of my good friends I still stay in touch with today, even though it’s been 20 years.”
Though the job duties aren’t around any longer, Casto says the communal legacy of the program remains intact. It allowed him to come from a small high school to the large Ohio State campus and acclimate quickly, not only because of the 100 students in the program but because of the large alumni group that supports it.
Scholars have regular events with alumni, such as the annual fall welcome at the stadium and the spring formal dance, the Escapade at the Huntington Club.
The Stadium Scholarship Alumni Society also raises funds for endowment scholarships in addition to what students already get. Last year, alumni awarded over $20,000 to those in the program, according to Ocheltree, who was co-chair of the scholarship committee this past year.
The scholars and alumni have also created a mentorship program, in which an alumnus is matched with a student from a similar background or who is studying an area that overlaps with the alumnus’ work.
Paula Santa, vice president of the alumni program, mentored a first-generation student — just like she was when she arrived at the Stadium Dorm in 1988.
“Being a resource for someone who’s far away from home for the first time is very rewarding,” says Santa, a 1993 graduate. “I was from a little town in eastern Ohio and the Stadium Dorm were a tight-knit community. It helped me find my niche here.
“We have a lot of alumni who value their time here and their ability to get a college education because of this program. The fact Ohio State created this opportunity, and kept that tradition going, says a lot about the university.”