The Camras Scholars Program

By Nancianna Derrick Schaaper (ME ’01)
Camras Scholar

Ten years ago as a high school senior in Anchorage, Alaska, with good grades and test scores, I was deeply involved in my search to find the “perfect” college—one that would educate as well as inspire me. One of my teachers gave me a brochure for the Camras program, which provided students full-tuition scholarships to attend IIT. If I qualified, IIT would pay the travel expenses for me to visit campus during Camras Weekend to interview for the scholarship.

I had never heard of IIT, but the opportunity sounded great to this ambitious 18-year-old. Fortunately, I qualified, flew from Alaska for an interview, and fell in love with both Chicago and the university. 

During Camras Weekend, the IIT undergraduates really impressed me as they proudly showed me around “their” campus. I also had a strong connection to the other students being interviewed. My fellow Camras applicants were from very diverse social and economic backgrounds, were at the top of their class, and were active in several organizations at their high schools. I instantly knew that I wanted to be a part of this group.

Once I was offered a Camras Scholarship, I accepted immediately. I had been considering quite a few schools on the East Coast, but that ended after I heard from IIT. It was a great scholarship, and a wonderful school.

My fellow graduates and I are going places because of the Camras program.

At IIT, we were met with challenging courses and opportunities to explore ourselves through numerous student groups. Above all, we were required to perform academically if we wanted to keep the scholarship. Some of us got involved in research early as undergraduates. If there was an idea we wanted to explore, we could do it. The opportunities as a Camras student were endless. 

The Camras program has had a big impact on the makeup of IIT’s student body. Apart from being among the best and brightest high school graduates, Camras scholars come from all over the country, whereas most of IIT students historically have come from the Midwest. And even though IIT is a technical university that has drawn mostly men, many of the former and current Camras scholars are women.

There has been a positive boost in school spirit. Bringing in new athletic programs contributed to a certain extent, but the Camras program made a difference, too. This was apparent when Camras students would host prospective scholars during their visits to campus. When I visited IIT for the first time, I saw current students who were involving themselves in helping new people and hosting prospectives because they love IIT. Their great sense of pride in their university community was very apparent and infectious. In turn, I hosted students whenever I could.

While the Camras program has attracted students who are dedicated academically, they also have a unique sense of humor. At graduation, one of my Camras friends hooked a motor to his graduation cap and had the tassle spin around, while another had some LEDs on his cap illuminated!

One of the benefits of being a Camras scholar was joining the other scholarship recipients for dinner at the home of Robert Pritzker. We all felt honored, as first-year Camras students, to be invited to such an event. The dinner was an occasion when we felt the privilege of being Camras scholars and empowered to be successful like Mr. Pritzker.

It also was an honor simply to be part of a program named for Marvin Camras, an important inventor who pioneered magnetic tape recording and served on the faculty of IIT.  

I’ve kept in touch with many of my Camras friends, emailing, talking, and even meeting with them for vacations in Cabo San Lucas. One of my friends is an engineer for NASA. She had never flown on a plane before she went to IIT for her Camras interview; now she flies around the world. Another friend just got her professional engineer’s license, and a third teaches at Notre Dame. 

Apart from being among the best and brightest high school graduates, Camras scholars come from all over the country. Many of the former and current Camras scholars

I have worked most recently for 3M Alaska as a sales account representative, selling a wide variety of 3M safety and security products to a diverse customer base. I often work with engineers on specifications for building materials, consult on proper applications of my products, and conduct training. It is a wonderful job that builds directly on the training I received at IIT. My job allows me
to explore more of my home state and to interact with customers to find innovative solutions to their technical problems. 

In short, my fellow graduates and I are going places, and much of it is because of the Camras program. I am very grateful to President Lew Collens for his leadership in promoting and initiating this program, which means the world to those of us who have experienced it.