derwiki

Dec 02 2013

How I started a scholarship in my hometown

About one year ago, I wrote a blog post announcing the Derewecki Science Grant. It’s a scholarship I started for high school students in my home county of Coshocton, Ohio, in the form of a one-time $1000 award. Over the past year, many people have asked how one goes about setting up a scholarship. It’s a lot easier than you might think, costs less than you might think, and can be a rewarding way to give back to the community that brought you up.

Motivation

This is going to be a little blunt. I was a smart-ass in high school. I knew how to computer, learned how to teach myself things on the internet — I was the smartest person I knew. I mouthed off to teachers who I didn’t think were doing a good job. As you might expect, when it came to subjective awards based on votes from a committee of teachers, I drew the short straw. What grinded my gears the most was becoming co-valedictorian after being rejected twice from National Honor Society.

I’m the first to admit that I was often a smart-ass, but I still think I was treated unfairly by more than a fair share of teachers. One of the teachers on the NHS committee that had denied me membership actually held me after class to apologize — he was one of the good ones. A few friends and I dreamed of a future where we could start a scholarship that could only be given to non-NHS students, a scholarship so tantalizing that it would demolish the relative appeal of the NHS.

A bit petty, but I was 17 or 18 and I like to think I’ve grown a lot since then. One thing that hasn’t changed is my belief that some high potential students in my hometown are overlooked for issues that are easily correctable. In my case, Coshocton just wasn’t my trip — I didn’t fit in. As soon as I got to college, I ate humble pie until I puked and adjusted my attitude on life. I was lucky enough to be able to attend a college with a generous financial aid package, in addition to the merit-based scholarships I received. But I had a friend who literally didn’t have the money to apply to college or anyone (his own father included) willing to co-sign on a loan for him. So he didn’t. This was the only friend I had in high school who was into programming, and was the only I saw regularly who pushed me further. And it’s totally unfair that he didn’t get the chance to go to college. So I decided the best thing I could do was start a scholarship for people like him, people who could’ve easily been me.

Logistics

Deciding that you want to do it is half the battle. The other half involves actually setting up the scholarship. I sort of took the easy way out, but I think most of you probably can too (unless you have complicated requirements). In my hometown, the Coshocton Foundation gave the majority of local scholarships to high schoolers, so I just reached out to the head of the foundation with my proposed selection criteria. The mininum amount is going to be up to the foundation you’re working with, but expect it to be on the order of $10k. Do the math, figure out how much you think you’ll be able to put in and how long you want the scholarship to last. After a few back and forth e-mails, we hammered out the details and out came an official looking document:

I happened to be home in late March, and I met with a small committee at the Foundation to go through all the applications and vote on a recipient. We gave each applicant a fair shake, and one was a clear standout, so the decision was unanimous. It should be noted that because of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, this is a committee in which I cannot have a majority vote. This means that the winning applicant might not be the person I chose, but this seems fair in exchange for the convenience of having the whole thing basically managed for me.

Online Fundraising

At the time I set up this scholarship, I was working at Causes.com so it seemed natural to launch a campaign to raise money online:

Give to the Derewecki Science Grant
For my birthdays and holidays, I’ve been asking friends and family to give to my scholarship, and have raised $585 to date.

Company Matching

If you or your friends work at companies that match contributions to charity, that’s a pretty easy way to double the impact. When you find out which companies match, actively recruit your friends who work there. This tactic raised an additional $3000.

Meaningful Giving

Overall, it’s been a very positive experience. Unlike other philanthropy I’ve done, it’s not an anonymous impact. I remain connected with kids in my hometown who can surprise me in all sorts of ways.

I originally had a coding challenge that was part of the requirement, but at the urging of the Coshocton Foundation, I changed it to something more general:

Summary of something applicant has built or created: for instance, a piece of sample software code, a woodworking project, art project, “souped-up” hotrod, home-built segway, robot that rakes the leaves, etc, The goal of this requirement is to provide an opportunity to “show off” something about which the applicant is passionate.
In retrospect, my original criteria was way too restrictive and I think I would have been disappointed with the applications. By broadening it, a student was able to sell himself on the hotrods he had been building with his dad since he was 8 years old and going to school to be a mechanical engineer, and is the first in his family to go to college. After just one year of giving, it’s already been more meaningful philanthropy than anything else I’ve done, and I look forward to being surprised and delighted every year for a long time.

Related Posts: Announcing the Derewecki Science Grant

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