by Sherra Bourget
At last update earlier this spring, we shared that the Nordic Educational Trust (NET) selection committee had made determinations for the 2017 scholarships. Now that school is officially in session, it’s a good time for an update. You may remember that the NET scholarships were founded in 1988 by former member, Ross Anderson (Nordic Ford, which eventually became Heritage Ford) and his wife, Gail. Addressing his own workforce shortage, Ross utilized the scholarships to reach into under-served communities outside of Chittenden County to offer a helping hand to students and convicted felons exiting prison who, perhaps were not the top of their class, but demonstrated grit and were seeking post-secondary technical education to stay and work in Vermont.
Upon full-time retirement that took Gail and him out of state, Ross entrusted NET to the Roundtable’s Foundation in 2010. Seven years later, the NET selection committee still pursues Ross’ vision in its awards. Scholarships this year are supporting students that live in West Topsham (nursing), Randolph (automotive), Wardsboro (nursing), and Brattleboro (architecture). Second year students are from Springfield (computer science) and Mount Holly (computer science). We are pleased to report that all but one student is enrolled in classes this semester.
Though I have supported the NET scholarship in a number of ways over the years, this was the first that I was able to actually serve on the selection committee. I have to admit that I was disheartened to learn that the one scholar not enrolled in classes was the one I had championed in deliberations. This student’s plight is a plagued story too familiar to so many of Vermont’s youth. I had advocated for the selection committee to “meet her half-way” on her tuition expenses. Now those funds will go unused this year. Experiencing some guilt, I sought the sage counsel of VBR Research and Education Foundation director, Sister Janice Ryan. As a Sister of Mercy, President Emeritus of Trinity College and former Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, I knew that she would have wisdom to apply as salve on how to identify those that you can help, and how not to lose hope when it just doesn’t work out. She shared, “That’s why mentors – someone who is willing to walk beside you – are so important. This student needs someone to invest in her that way.”
The vital importance of mentors reemerged days later at our College and Career Readiness Task Force meeting, when visiting presenter and Rowland Fellow, Lindsay Cox, from the Winooski school district urged that mentorship is the key to success for so many at-risk students. Referencing Tom Friedman’s NYTimes op-ed, “It Takes a Mentor,” Ms. Cox commented that in order for business to benefit from more “plug-and-play” employees, it may require more investment – of time and energy – on its part in the more formative years. The Roundtable’s CCRTF is indeed on the right path in becoming valuable partners to help make those connections.