WITH the growing number of scholars each year, the Office for Student Affairs and Community Services (OSACS) felt the need for an organization of scholars essential.

Thus, in 1994, the Ugnayang Tomasinong may Angking Kakayahan (UTAK), the first scholars association in the University, was born.

But two years after, some members found the organization’s name “discriminatory.” According to them, the phrase “may angking kakayahan” seemed to exclude working scholars, performing artists, and athletes.

So, the organization changed its name to UST Scholars Association. But again, the members were discontented. They did not want to be known as student assistants because of the group’s acronym, UST-SA.

After four years, the organization was named after its official newsletter, UST Escolares, meaning small boy in Spanish. And this year, it changed its name again.

The scholars wanted a name for their organization that would best fit their ideals. Their new name, Becarios de Santo Tomas (Best), which means Scholars of UST, was just perfect.

No ordinary students

Currently, the organization has 300 members. Most of them are San Martin de Porres scholars. This scholarship is awarded to students in need of financial aid in their studies. Only half of the student’s tuition is shouldered by the scholarship. Aside from maintaining their grades, the OSACS requires of them a 70-percent attendance in the organization’s assemblies, in order to maintain their scholarships. Failure to achieve the quota would mean holding or forfeiture of their scholarship.

“We are accepting privileges (from the school), so OSACS requires us to attend the activities and general assemblies,” Legal Management senior and Best vice-president external Lady Jay Gutierrez, said.

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Other scholarship grants are the Santo Domingo de Guzman Scholarship for performing artists and athletes, and the San Lorenzo Ruiz Working Scholar Program for students who are willing to work part-time for the University.

To become a scholar, one has to complete certain requirements. After filling the application form at the OSACS, an applicant undergoes a series of panel interviews with the Scholarship Committee, headed by Vice-Rector for Finance Fr. Roberto Pinto, O.P.

Many factors are considered in order to become a scholar. For those applying for a San Martin de Porres scholarship, a copy of the family income tax return will be asked. Parental consent is required for the San Lorenzo scholarship.

An average of five percent, or less, per college is admitted, depending on the slots vacated by students who graduated or those whose scholarships were forfeited.

The scholars also need to maintain certain grade requirements. St. Thomas scholars are expected to have an average of 1.75, while San Martin de Porres scholars and San Lorenzo Ruiz scholars need 2.25 and 2.5 respectively.

Service in return

Besides being volunteers in OSACS sponsored activities and outreach programs, Best also has its own line of activities.

Among them is conducting regular outreach programs to its seven junior scholars in P. Gomez Elementary School. The organization provides school supplies and the monthly allowances for these children.

Last year, with the help of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza, the scholars were able to tour the children to Manila Zoo for free. This year, they plan to take the children for another exposure trip, at Fort Santiago, the Planetarium, or at the National Museum.

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“Unlike ordinary students na aral lang nang aral, we provide service to others,” Gutierrez said.

Accounting senior member Melody Llantero agreed. “Na-widen ang circle of friends ko, mas na-expose ako sa mga issues sa school through the activities.”

Best will also raise funds through musical variety shows. The scholars’ three-year old Makabata Raffle Draw fund-raising for children every December is also being considered.

Last year, the organization sponsored the concert UST Goes Broadway, which showcased Thomasian talents, a first for the then Escolares.

“Naging vehicle siya of transformation, from (being merely) an ordinary student to an active participant in the University,” Economics junior and Best auditor Teddy Quizado, said.

Optimistic and hopeful

However, Gutierrez hopes that Best will be able to establish contacts with the scholar organizations of other universities.

They are also looking on the possibility of pushing through with their long-planned study sessions. The study sessions became impossible because of the small space in the office.

Most scholars also still do not know each other. Best tries to solve this problem through its regular general assemblies, acquaintances, and team-building activities.

“Makakatulong ang mga old members sa mga new scholars na maka-cope with the adjustment period,” AB Professor and Best adviser Francis Peebert Bugarin, said.

Members share common sentiments toward being treated differently in class. “Para kasing ‘pag sinabing scholar ka, hindi ka puwedeng magkamali. Dapat perfect ka,” Bugarin said.

According to Gutierrez, they are just like other students. Perhaps their only difference is their grade consciousness. “May mine-maintain kaming grade, kailangan hindi kami magkakaroon ng sobrang mababang grade at bawal bumagsak,” she said.

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To name a few alumni of the organization are award-winning debater and lawyer Enrique de la Cruz, Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines 2001 awardee Valarie Ku and Philippine Daily Inquirer reporter, two-time editor in chief of the Varsitarian and now AB Prof. Christian Esguerra.

After a series of changing names, Thomasian scholars finally found a name. But what really makes Utak or UST-SA or Escolares or BEST one of the most outstanding organizations in the University is that its members have a heart and, of course, academic giftedness.

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