Duke Energy’s Advocates for African Americans Carolinas Scholarship Fund has supported more than 100 students since it was created more than 20 years ago to foster diversity in STEM fields. The program, which traditionally has been funded through an annual gala, has been successful since the beginning thanks largely to the passion of Duke Energy employees. 

The scholarship fund has also been able to extend its reach and its effectiveness by partnering with Foundation For The Carolinas. The Foundation manages more than 150 scholarship funds established by individuals, families, nonprofits and businesses, investing and managing the principal to pay for scholarship awards with investment gains.

“The scholarship program has become more robust,” said Andrea White Foster, chair of Duke Energy’s Advocates for African Americans employee resource group, which oversees the scholarship. “Working with the Foundation, and handing over the day-to-day activities, has helped us grow exponentially and focus on our mission.”

Andrea White Foster

To work with the Foundation, corporations provide a minimum of $100,000, which is set up as an endowment. The fundholder sets the criteria, such as eligibility requirements, applicable schools and desired fields of study. The Foundation then administers the fund, including handling applications through an online portal, corresponding with applicants, paying out scholarships, and coordinating with schools to ensure all relevant tax laws are followed. For endowments opened with $500,000 or more, the Foundation also promotes the program, manages the selection committee, maintains files for and tracks academic progress of each scholarship recipient, and manages scholarship renewals if applicable. 

The Advocates for African Americans Carolinas Scholarship Fund was one of the first funds Qiana Austin learned about when she joined the Foundation 15 years ago. Companies benefit from the Foundation’s ability to leverage its resources and relationships with colleges and universities nationwide when marketing scholarships to potential applicants, said Austin, vice president & scholarships program officer. She is seeing greater interest from companies wanting to create scholarship funds as the cost of a college education continues to rise.

“It’s an opportunity to give back, for a corporation to show it is invested in the people who work for them and the greater community,” she said. “It is a direct benefit that you can give someone, and supporting scholarships just feels good for everyone.”

Unexpected benefits

In addition to receiving money to help pay for college tuition and supplies, Advocates’ scholarship recipients are provided with mentors and have access to networking opportunities with Duke Energy employees and others outside the company. 

After graduating from high school in 2014, D’Andra Lawes entered UNC Charlotte as a member of the University Transition Opportunities Program, a six-week experience that facilitates a student’s transition from high school to college.   Looking for financial support for her college career, she was encouraged by mentors to apply for grants and scholarships available through Foundation For The Carolinas. She spotted the Advocates for African Americans Carolinas Scholarship Fund while searching online and was awarded $2,000 per year.

While she appreciates the money that helped pay for her education, she is also grateful for some unexpected benefits: New connections that helped her build her career.

“Having the scholarship granted me access to a network of folks that I wouldn’t have otherwise been privy to,” said Lawes, who has worked with Duke Energy’s IT Association Program and served in roles including Business Analyst, Scrum Master, and Senior Agilist.

“The scholarship opened the door to mentors who have proven to be invaluable to my development,” Lawes said.

Foundation marketing extends reach

Duke Energy employees involved with the fund have been better able to focus on growing and strengthening the networking part of the scholarship program thanks to the Foundation’s involvement, said Shalon Hawkins Sharpe, who served as chair of the Scholarship Committee for three years. 

Shalon Hawkins Sharpe

“If the Foundation wasn’t managing the fund, it would be difficult for us,” said Sharpe, an instructional designer with the utility company. “I love working in the mentorship piece of the scholarship. I’m a creative; I’m not the money or administrative person.” 

She especially appreciated how the Foundation vetted applicants and created an easy-to-read packet with information about the top candidates for her and other fund leaders to consider. 

Sharpe said FFTC was able to extend the scholarship’s reach and attract a wider array of applicants than if the utility had attempted to market the scholarship on its own. Another benefit: Because Duke Energy employees and family members are eligible to apply for scholarships, the Foundation’s involvement in screening applicants and narrowing the candidate list eliminates any perception of favoritism in the selection process.

Because the Duke Energy scholarship is renewable as long as the recipient meets set criteria, the Foundation also tracks recipients to ensure they continue to meet eligibility requirements.

“With so much being handled through the Foundation, it frees up a lot of time for us,” Sharpe said. “I love working in the advocacy space, but it’s not a full-time job. It is something that we are able to do in addition to our full-time job because of the Foundation’s assistance.”

Learn more:

Read More

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *