Published on Aug. 13, 2020
The summer after graduating high school, LeAnn Stroupe received a phone call that would ultimately change the trajectory of her life.
“I don’t know who it was, they said, ‘Hi, this is such and such at the University of Missouri and I am calling because we are awarding you a full-ride scholarship,” Stroupe explained. “I really thought someone was pranking me.”
In 1987 Stroupe was a freshman at MU, but she wasn’t just any freshman. For starters, she was one of less than 150 Black students in her freshman class and she was selected to be a member of the inaugural class for the George C. Brooks Scholarship.
George C. Brooks was a former MU Financial Aid Director. In 1987 the university started a scholarship program to, “enhance recruitment and retention of undergraduate students from ethnic groups that are underrepresented at MU,” according to the University of Missouri Student Financial Aid website.
“It was a $5000 scholarship [at the time] that would cover tuition, fees, room and board and everything I was expected to pay,” Stroupe said. “It was a blessing because we [my family] didn’t know how we were going to pay.”
The Brooks Scholarship was part of a program at MU called ‘MAP’, this program was the precursor to MU’s efforts to help minority students succeed academically.
“When I joined the program, it was more like a roadmap, with resources and things that help put you on a path to help you be successful on your journey here,” Stroupe said.
Since then, MAP has transitioned into Academic Retention Services (ARS) and then in 2017 changed names once again to Center for Academic Success & Excellence (CASE). Currently, the Brooks Scholarship remains part of CASE and actively serves about 50 scholars in each graduating class. For 33 years now, this scholarship has made college a financially feasible and academically enriching opportunity for students like Stroupe.
Stroupe rose from humble beginnings. She is one of four siblings, and was fortunate enough to grow up in a two-parent household. Neither of her parents had a college degree. Her mother managed to graduate high school and take some college courses whereas her father only had a 10th grade education. She spent her childhood in Kansas City, Mo living a blue-collar lifestyle.
“We had a house, we had food, vacations were to grandmas, it wasn’t going to Europe, but we had some extra money,” Stroupe said.
Despite not having been afforded the opportunity to go to college, Stroupe’s parents did not want the same for their daughter. They not only planned for Stroupe to attend college, they expected it.
“Trying to figure out how we were going to pay … I think it was a combination of loans and scholarships I would earn because of my academics or what have you,” Stroupe said.
Once Stroupe had received her full scholarship offer to MU, there was no looking back, she was a Tiger.
“It was definitely a blessing to me and my family to not have to worry about how we were going to pay or afford for me to be at college,” Stroupe said.
Without the financial worries, Stroupe was able to get involved with various organizations on campus. As a student studying personal finance management, Stroupe joined the Black Student Business Association. She also sang in the Legion of Black Collegians (LBC) Gospel Choir and participated in Black Greek Life. She started as a little sister to Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. which is the brother organization to Zeta Phi Beta Inc. Eventually, Stroupe would go on to become President of Zeta Phi Beta Inc.
“I think having that scholarship truly allowed me to be more present during my college experience,” Stroupe said. “That’s how it really shaped me, because of the things I was able to do in college I got leadership experience, I was the VP of Black Student Business Association, I was president of my sorority and you can’t do all of that stuff if you have to work or worry about how you’re going to pay to be here.”
As a freshman at MU, Stroupe passed all her classes with ease. Coming from a college preparatory high school, she felt right at home in the freshman courses. However, she wasn’t prepared for what was to come.
“Then sophomore year came and that was an awakening, maybe even a rude awakening,” Stroupe explained. “What I learned in college was that I really didn’t have the study skills or habits I needed because it just came so natural to me in high school.”
Stroupe started to see her GPA slip for the first time in her life. As a high school student, she had never earned less than a B and now she was starting to see C’s.
“The biggest challenge was navigating my sophomore year between socially trying to figure out my place and academically going back to learn the things I had never learned in high school or my freshman year, which was really good study habits because I was not used to getting a C,” Stroupe said.
The Brooks Scholarship requires for students to maintain a 2.5 GPA, failure to do so can result in the loss of scholarship.
“My GPA completely plummeted and I actually lost the Brooks Scholarship but I wasn’t going to tell my parents this,” Stroupe said. “They sent me to college for one reason and that was to be academic and immersed in my studies so to tell them I am in all these clubs and at parties on the weekends and not only did I lose the scholarship, but now I have to figure out how I am going to pay for it…so I took out a loan, a student loan that I ended up paying back myself.”
After her slip up, Stroupe was determined to re-earn her scholarship as well as learn how to be a better student.
“That next semester I figured it out, I figured out life,” Stroupe said. “I went to study sessions, tutoring, and all the things successful students do to get good grades in their classes. I got my scholarship back, thank God for that, I got the scholarship back and finished out my time at Mizzou.”
After graduating in 1991, Stroupe stayed in Columbia. She had found a part-time job at The Heidelberg as a waitress and continued to take classes. She stuck around because at the time she was dating a guy in law school. She didn’t intend to be a waitress forever, she was simply passing time when opportunity fell in her lap.
“One of my regulars was the director of admissions, she and I had a rapport over the years and she would come in a couple of times a week and when they had the vacancy come open she had mentioned to me, ‘LeAnn I have a perfect opportunity for you if you’re interested come set up a meeting with me,’” Stroupe said. “I set up a meeting and went to talk to her and it [the vacancy] was the admissions representative for the Brooks Scholarship.”
Stroupe got the job, and in 1993 she began her first ‘real job’ working for MU and managing the Brooks Scholarship.
“It was kind of surreal being in the first class of Brooks Scholars in 1987, then overseeing it and administering the program in 1993, it was just surreal,” Stroupe explained. “I go from being one to selecting the one, that’s just a full-circle moment and I continue to feel blessed by the fact that now I get to do for others what was done for me.”
Stroupe used what she had learned as a Brooks Scholar to enhance the program for future generations. When Stroupe first participated in the program, scholars were pretty independent from one another. She recognized that college is difficult for any first-time student but when you add on being a first-generation underrepresented minority student, it presents its own challenges and can become overwhelming. As the new administrator of the Brooks Scholarship, Stroupe intended to ease this anxiety by building a community of scholars.
“I honestly cannot name one person in my scholarship class, that’s probably one of the things I regret and feel was missing in the initial program,” Stroupe said. “That was something that I tried to do when I was administering it, bring them in as a cohort not as individuals. Do some activities for them as a group so they can get to know each other and have connections with each other on campus and beyond.”
Currently, the Brooks Scholars program still operates with close knit cohorts. From the very first week of school until graduation, scholars meet weekly, live together in the dorms and participate in countless career oriented and academic activities.
“When LeAnn came to Mizzou, she could have done what a lot of her peers did, a lot of her peers stayed and graduated then left and have not connected again,” Karen Hayes, Student Service Coordinator at CASE said. “She saw that Mizzou needed to be better and she worked to change it at all levels.”
Presently, Stroupe still works for MU. She is the Director of Visitor Relations and oversees all of MU’s campus activities and family visits.
“The fact that I never visited or took a tour to Mizzou is kind of full of irony,” Stroupe said.
Stroupe not only received her bachelor’s degree from MU, but while working on campus, she continued her education. Stroupe earned her Master’s in Public Administration and her PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. Yes, she got all of her degrees from Mizzou.
“I always liked the concept of continuing education and that was again going back to the value my parents had for me: education, education, education, you need it to excel and advance in life so I took advantage,” Stroupe said.
During her time in COMO, Stroupe met her husband Clay, who is a native to Columbia. She found herself in love with the college environment, with MU and of course, with Clay. Now, her two teenage kids attend Rockbridge High School. Needless to say, there has yet to be a reason for Stroupe to leave.
The Kansas City Native recognizes how fortunate she is in life. A large part of her continued success can be attested to the Brooks Scholarship. Stroupe uses her platform to stay involved and be an active participant in the community. As a successful Black woman, Stroupe knows the power her image alone can have for the younger generation.
“I like giving back where I can, I give back not always in the form of money but sometimes your time is just as valuable and I think in some cases more valuable for you to be present and visible so that people who look like you see options for themselves maybe in realms or sectors that aren’t as racially diverse,” Stroupe said.
So, when you think of the term “Mizzou Made”, what does it really mean? One can say it’s simply, someone who is a Mizzou graduate. Or, someone who has been molded and become successful through the assistance of the university. Yes, but it’s deeper than that.
For Stroupe, it means to respect others and understand their struggles while helping them prepare for their futures. It means taking responsibility for your mistakes and learning from them. It means continuing academic discovery years after graduating. It means being a symbol of excellence for those in the community.
LeAnn Stroupe is not only Mizzou Made, she exudes the exact definition.
“She is a testament to what it means to really look at yourself and really see yourself as a part of a college going culture.,” Hayes said. “For her, she didn’t run away from the difficulty, she stayed with it and has worked really hard to change it and make it her Mizzou, not someone else’s Mizzou.”
A phone call one summer day in 1987 quickly turned into a legacy. The impact of the Brooks Scholarship and all the experiences Stroupe was allotted because of it, have shaped her into the person she is today.