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UA nonprofit helps high schoolers in need of tuition assistance


John Sharp, Ben Pado, Elise Peters, Adam Surico and Jared Kenyon at the 2020 Eller College of Management Innovation Expo on Feb. 13, accepting the Microsoft Social Impact Award. Courtesy of Adam Surico

The Cap & Gown Initiative helps students in southern Arizona afford tuition at the University of Arizona or other in-state universities. 

The idea for this nonprofit started with Jared Kenyon; he wanted to attend the UA but was short in the amount needed for tuition. One of his neighbors gave him money to bridge that gap between what he had in his pocket for tuition and what it actually cost to go to the UA. That neighbor's money was a huge help to letting him attend the UA. 

That idea then merged with the three other founders of their group within the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship: Adam Surico, Elise Peters and Ben Pado. The founders noticed a lot of students, particularly in Southern Arizona, wanted to attend college but would fall short in collecting and raising money to pay for tuition. Sometimes those students would be $100 to $1,000 short of what they needed, which led to the founders wanting to help them.

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Mike Miles — from the UA's Eller College of Management — is the mentor of the four founders of the Cap & Gown Initiative. 

“The founders are working on several student recruiting channels," Miles said. "The first is a partnership with San Miguel High School in Tucson. They work with the advisers at San Miguel, who then propose students to participate in the Cap & Gown Initiative.”

As a mentor, Miles met with the founders once or twice each week to talk about practical issues related to their venture.

“Every week we want to highlight a new student on our website and discuss what our platform means to them," Surico said. "We want to highlight how much money they need to afford tuition, and then put that link up online.”

Students are selected through an application process. Then, the student profile is posted to the site and they send that link out to their network of individuals and sponsors that they know within the Tucson community and abroad in Arizona in hopes of collecting funds. People who donate are able to choose how much they donate. 

The founders focus on selecting students who serve an underrepresented market in the Tucson area. By the end of the year they would like to have had around 50 students.

“There is a shortage of nurses in the area, so we want to focus on nurses and those in the medical fields,” Surico said. They want to focus on majors that will help out the Tucson community.

The group has a student lined up named Angel Ruiz who wants to go into nursing. The founders thought he was a great representation of where they want to start with the Cap & Gown Initiative, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic impacting Arizona.

Another goal of the group is to eventually expand to allow applications from not only Southern Arizona, but also Central Arizona and Northern Arizona. 

The founders are also working to build a relationship with the UA Admissions team, where they are recommended as an option to students who are not able to start their college career at the UA because of financial issues. 

"We want to focus on majors that will help the Tucson community," Surico said. "[Ruiz] wants to go into nursing, and we think that's a great representation of where we want to start."

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