Scholarships help students reach academic goals

Erica Howard

Joan-Ann Dedge wasn’t sure how she could achieve her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher. The financial burden of university tuition and books seemed insurmountable.

With the help of the Richard “Dick” Locher Memorial Scholarship, she overcame that burden.

Dedge graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. Next year, she will teach third grade at Oakland Terrace Elementary School.

“I knew my husband and I would need some financial help if I was going to continue to attend Florida State,” Dedge wrote in a thank you letter to Nan Locher, who established the endowed scholarship in her husband’s memory. “This scholarship means more to my family than words can express.”

Because of generous donors, 175 scholarship recipients on average are able to afford college and achieve their dreams each year at Florida State University Panama City. Endowed scholarships are privately funded and recognize superior scholarship, leadership and exemplary character among student recipients who have high financial need.

Kinsey Naud, who is one of six children in her family, said college might not have been possible for her without the Frank Brown Memorial Optimist Club of the Beaches Scholarship.

“With all those mouths to feed, affording higher education has required great effort so far,” she wrote to members of the Optimist Club of the Beaches, who established the scholarship in memory of Frank Brown, a founding member of the organization. “The financial assistance you provided will be of great help to me in paying for my education expenses, and it will allow me to focus more on the most important aspect of school: learning.”

In May, Naud graduated debt-free with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, student loan debt tops $1 trillion in America, with an average balance of $24,301.

“I feel so fortunate to be starting out on the next step in life without any loans or debt hanging over me,” she said before graduation.

The benefits of scholarships also extended to entire families as some students forego work to earn a degree.

Gigi Scola, a mother of two, had to devote her time to student teaching during the spring semester in order to graduate from the elementary education program.

“This scholarship means that I will be able to pay for school and use our family’s savings to help with household expenses during student teaching,” she wrote in her thank you letter to the FSU Panama City scholarship committee for the Panama City Campus Endowed General Scholarship. “It has helped so much.”

Newlyweds Aerial and Andrew Melvin said the Endowment for the College of Applied Studies and the Panama City Campus Endowed General scholarships helped them earn degrees while owning a business and starting their life together.

“I am very blessed, however I am struggling with the weight of all my responsibilities and the cost of school,” Aerial Melvin wrote in her scholarship application.

The Melvins, who married in 2013, managed full course loads while running their Panama City Beach frozen yogurt shop, Milk and Honey. They recently sold the business.

Andrew Melvin graduated in December with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He works as a sales account manager for I Heart Media. His wife graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in professional communication from the College of Applied Studies. She hopes to continue to a master’s degree.

“Being young and married, finances were pretty difficult,” Andrew Melvin said at graduation. “I am extremely grateful for such a generous scholarship.”

Financial aid allows students to focus less on finances and more on academic excellence, said Shoa Russell, a recent electrical engineering graduate.

“You have lightened my financial burden and allowed me to dedicate more of my time to studying, learning and volunteering,” Russell wrote to the St. Joe Community Foundation, who funded her scholarship. “In the future I hope to be able to give back to this foundation as well and help lighten the load for future students.”

The minimum size gift to establish an endowed scholarship is $25,000, which can be paid over a period of five years. Donors may use either outright or deferred gifts to establish a named endowed fund, which can be in the donor’s name, the name of his/her business or in someone’s honor or memory.

When an endowed scholarship is established, the funds are invested and only the income from the investment is used to support its purpose. This preserves the donor’s original gift in perpetuity, guaranteeing he/she will have an impact for generations to come.

The donor also can specify the criteria that will be used to award the scholarship, such as financial need, merit and/or community service. The FSU Panama City director of development works with each donor to prepare guidelines for the administration of each named endowed fund.

Students must apply each semester they wish to be considered. Applicants are considered for all scholarships for which they are eligible and typically must possess a minimum GPA of 2.5 and take at least six credit hours per semester.

To apply, students must complete the FAFSA and the Foundation Scholarship application.

For more information on establishing an endowed scholarship, call FSU Panama City Director of Development Mary Beth Lovingood at 850-770-2108 or email mmblovingood@pc.fsu.edu.