There are 761 Golden LEAF Scholars currently attending North Carolina colleges and universities across the state. Over the last few months, we have had the opportunity to visit with more than 170 of them at on campus gatherings hosted by their college chancellor. Golden LEAF Board and staff members have traveled from Western Carolina University to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and places in between.
What I enjoy most about these gatherings is getting to know a little more about each scholar and watching as students from rural communities are able to connect over their shared experiences. As an organization with deep roots in rural North Carolina, I take pride in telling students “I’ve been there” or “I know exactly where that is” when they share the name of their hometown. For some rural students, finding people on campus familiar with their hometown isn’t always easy.
As part of the selection process, Golden LEAF Scholars write an essay outlining their career goals and ways they intend to give back to a rural community following graduation. Hearing directly from the students about their goals, how attending college is aiding in that path, and their opportunities ahead is always a highlight. The students have unique plans for their lives; however, one of the similarities is that they all want to help their hometown grow and thrive. I always leave a gathering of scholars energized for the future of our state.
In addition to learning about each scholar, my goal for these gatherings is to share the mission of Golden LEAF, why we fund the scholarship program, and how the scholarship program is one of the most important goals of the board. These events also provide scholars with the opportunity to meet some of the Golden LEAF staff and/or Board members, giving them a deeper connection to who Golden LEAF is and why we support their educational goals.
In 2022, we launched the Rural Internship Initiative, an opportunity for Golden LEAF Scholars that enables them to have an internship in their home community or another rural community over the summer. These internships allow students to see their community as a place where they can have a career in their field of interest. The internships not only provide our scholars with a workforce opportunity, but also help address the need for talent in rural communities.
We are thankful to each college and university leader for taking time for these events along with members of their leadership team. This provides the Golden LEAF Scholars valuable networking experience and an opportunity to get to know leaders on their campus. We also invite Golden LEAF Scholar alumni to come and share about their experiences in college and the transition to the workforce.
As the semester draws to a close, we look forward to honoring our graduating seniors and soon welcoming a new 215 students to the Golden LEAF Scholar community. We’ll be back on the road next fall to visit more campuses and scholars, too!