MacDonald Scholarship connects students with community for long-lasting success

Photo the MacDonalds Scholars dinner, taken on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

Alumnus Scott MacDonald meets with the inaugural MacDonald Scholars during a recent ceremony. Photo by IU Communications

Post courtesy of IU Newsroom intern Sheila Raghavendran:

In 1970, IU Bloomington was very different from IU Bloomington today – its population was only 30,368, the building of Assembly Hall wasn’t yet completed and SPEA had yet to be established. But there is one aspect that has remained for some students and families: struggling to pay for college.

IU alumnus Scott MacDonald, who studied political science and graduated in 1970, reached his degree with the help of a small scholarship and student loan. Now, after a long and successful career as CEO of various companies, he said he is dedicated to helping students who are in similar financial situations and who want to better the community.

He founded the MacDonald Scholarship, administered by the Office of Student Life and Learning within the Division of Student Affairs, to help students cover the cost of college while promoting their participation in civic service. Emily Arth, Senior Associate Director of the Office of Scholarships, said she, her team and the SLL staff choose the scholars each year. She said it’s a personalized process in which they comb through students’ application materials, interview top candidates over Skype and then notify the winners.

Along with the gift, the four winners are required to complete 280 community service hours each year for four years.

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Attendees of the MacDonald Scholars inaugural ceremony sit for dinner. Photo by IU Communications

Already established at Davidson College, MacDonald’s sons’ alma mater, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, his own other alma mater, the program is in its inaugural year at IU.

MacDonald, who recently met IU’s four scholars at an inaugural dinner ceremony, said he wanted to give students in financial situations similar to his in college the opportunity to serve the community while reducing the weight of tuition, because “extending a hand … helps create who you are as a person,” he said.

“Everybody wins,” MacDonald said. “The university wins because they have more scholarship money, the student who needs financial aid wins because they get financial aid, and someone out there who is not able to get the government services or the help they need … (can) get help.”

One of the winners, IU freshman and MacDonald Scholar Dan Vargas can be found on a typical Tuesday volunteering at El Centro Comunal Latino. The tutoring and mentoring program housed at the Monroe County Public Library helps Latinos engage with “the English language, community and lifestyle,” he said.

Vargas said volunteering at El Centro Comunal Latino fulfills more than the program’s requirement.

“My grandparents on both sides of the family came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico at the age of 18,” Vargas said. “I know they along with my parents went through hardships that many Latino families still face in today’s day (and) age … Considering some of the people who visit El Centro Comunal might be going through some difficulties in a new environment, I want to be able to help them as someone who can integrate them into the community.”

Freshman and scholar Alice Joson is volunteering at Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard this year in Bloomington, and said her dedication to helping people is spurred by the impact others had on her life after her mom had a severe stroke when Joson was 15.

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MacDonald Scholars from left to right: Dan Vargas, Connor Randol, Alice Joson and Gillian Mueller. Photo by IU Communications

“She’s still alive today, but definitely not the same,” Joson said. “Recovery is still going on, so I have kind of had to go on my own more while my dad works and everything. Realizing all the tremendous help I received, I think it’s my duty to try to be the best person I can be and provide as much help as I can provide in accordance with what I received.”

Freshman and scholar Gillian Mueller said her involvement with Girl Scouts when she was little helped push her into service, and she continued in high school with groups at her school like National Honor Society and in her community at a meal-packing non-profit. She said it’s an honor to be a MacDonald Scholar not only because she can continue her community service with her agency Hilltop Garden and Nature Center in Bloomington, but because it’s the program’s first year at IU.

“It was really special, especially being the inaugural class here,” Mueller said. “There’s only four of us, so it was competitive. It feels special to be chosen.”

Echoing Mueller’s thoughts, freshman and scholar Connor Randol said the scholarship is unparalleled. He said that he volunteered with service groups, philanthropy groups and mentorships before coming to college, and therefore values the scholarship’s emphasis on engagement.

“More than just the financial stability that it provides, it provides you with the opportunity to get plugged into the community very quickly,” Randol, who is now volunteering at the WonderLab Museum of Science, Health & Technology, said.

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Freshman Gillian Mueller meets with MacDonald at an inaugural dinner ceremony. Photo by IU Communications

SLL Senior Assistant Director of Community Engagement Brandon Shurr, who works closely with the scholars as a supervisor, said this opportunity is crucial to helping them feel connected with and gain insight on the community.

“It’s really great for them to have this experience outside of IU and realize that learning not only happens in the classroom but spills out into the rest of the world as well,” Shurr said.

MacDonald said that he hopes these experiences will continue to grow beyond the 16 endowed scholars the program currently supports – four per year for four years. He said that alumni and friends of IU who contribute to community-service scholarship programs will not only directly benefit students in need of financial aid, but will leave a lasting legacy of people doing good work in their name.

He said that he hopes his legacy is to spur improvement.

“I find it meaningful to have students graduate with less debt and help people,” MacDonald said. “This is my way of trying to make the world a little bit better.”

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