Scholarship season is heating up, so we've brought in our resident experts, Jessica Schwager and Rick Fernandez, to discuss how OCCF can help, how to apply for scholarships and the role counselor's play in the process. And, you won't want to miss our conversation with Carolina Garcia, an OCCF scholarship recipient, discussing the impact scholarships have had on her education.
Visit occf.org to learn more!
Dan Martel 0:34
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has helped passionate individuals, families, and organizations create scholarships that collectively awarded over $2.8 million this past year to nearly 800 students. Hi, I'm Dan Martel. Welcome back to the pod. It's that time of year again, when thousands of Oklahoma students begin thinking about college, and more importantly, how to pay for college. Tuition costs have increased by more than 41% over the last 10 years, which is a pretty significant gain.
So, the big question today is how are kids able to afford attending college? That's where scholarships can come in to play and help ease the burden of students who might not be able to go to college without some form of financial assistance. Today we have Jessica Schwager, who is the Director of Scholarship Programs with the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, as well as Rick Fernandez, who is the coordinator of the Central Oklahoma Guidance Counselor Network. We also have an OCCF scholarship recipient Carolina Garcia, who is a student at the Oklahoma City University. She'll be talking with us today about what that scholarship meant to her and how it's helping her financially. Let's get right to it. First of all, I want to welcome Jessica Schwager back to the program. Jess, welcome back. Always great to have you.
Jessica Schwager 1:44
It's good to be back.
Dan Martel 1:45
So, Jessica, here we are in early 2022 and students and parents, right are already talking about applying to college and the bigger discussions become, how are we gonna pay for it?
Jessica Schwager 1:56
Dan Martel 1:57
All right. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has been awarding scholarships to students for several years. Tell me how all this got started.
Jessica Schwager 2:04
Yes. Our scholarship programs first started in 1970 by a man named E.K. Gaylord. We only had a few scholarships between then and about the mid-nineties, but after the Oklahoma City bombing, we were tasked to be in charge of the survivor's education funds. Where we kind of helped serve survivors of the bombing with their education through scholarships. I think it was after that point in time, we really became known as people who were good at managing scholarships. About that time until now our scholarship program has grown to a little over 220 different scholarship funds that we manage.
Dan Martel 2:42
Man, that's quite a bit of scholarships.
Jessica Schwager 2:44
Yes. It's a lot of scholarships.
Dan Martel 2:45
It is. Actually, what are some of the different types of scholarships the foundation awards every year? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Jessica Schwager 2:51
Yes. We work with donors primarily to establish scholarships. Many of those donors might have unique interests. They might want to set up scholarships for certain high schools in Oklahoma City. They might be from...we have a donor from Wellston, Oklahoma who wants to establish scholarships for graduates of Wellston. We have opportunities for students across the state. We are a statewide scholarship provider. We have opportunities for rural students. We have opportunities for the Lawton community. We have opportunities for Central Oklahoma, high school students, college students, a couple for graduate students. We have really scholarships all across the board.
Dan Martel 3:34
I read that the community foundation is the state's largest independent provider correct...?
Jessica Schwager 3:39
Dan Martel 3:39
Of scholarships across the state, which is pretty impressive. What are we talking about? I mean, how big is it? How many scholarships does the foundation give out every year? What kind of money are we talking about?
Jessica Schwager 3:50
Well, we're talking about a lot of money that we manage here. We, this last year awarded about $2.8 million in scholarships.
Dan Martel 3:57
Jessica Schwager 3:58
Yeah. Since last year we've had another 14 scholarships come to us, new scholarships that we'll be awarding again this year. I'm imagining that we might be hitting close to that $3 million mark here pretty soon. Then last year we awarded a little over 800 students with scholarships.
Dan Martel 4:14
It's a lot of kids needing some help. I think that is certainly a worthy cause. If a student is already in college, does the foundation help there too if they wanted to get a scholarship, even though they're already in college?
Jessica Schwager 4:26
Good question. We do have some scholarship programs for students already in college. We have a couple of programs, we have one that if a student has been awarded one of our Community Foundation Scholars scholarship, which is for graduating high school senior, if they are in the state of Oklahoma at a college, they can apply for this renewal scholarship. That's kind of an enhancement to that other scholarship. Then we have some other scholarships that donors set up say for OU, OSU, UCO, OCU, Langston, Cameron. We have some kind of pockets of scholarship money that students can apply for at different colleges here as well.
What's nice is that we offer scholarships to say nontraditional students, students who are looking into going to school. Say they have been in the workforce for a couple of years we have nursing scholarships. Say there's a nurse who's been in the workforce, but then she wants to go back and get her bachelor's degree. She could then apply for our scholarships as well. So, we have a lot of different opportunities that students should definitely check out.
Dan Martel 5:23
You know, one of the things...I saw a meme recently that was interesting too. They were talking about a lawyer, there was a young, well-dressed lawyer who was walking down the street with his briefcase. It said he's making $130,000 a year, but he owes about $100,000 in debt with school. Then they showed a picture of a plumber, said he owes no debt. He makes about $160,000 a year. My understanding is that the foundation also gives scholarships to students that want to attend a Vo-Tech. Is that correct?
Jessica Schwager 5:54
That is correct. Actually, most of our scholarships could go for students if they're planning to attend a Vo-Tech. Actually, there have been a few students we've awarded who are going straight to cosmetology school. Then as soon as they're done getting their cosmetology degree, then they go off to a four-year school and we're able to support them in that as well. We have a lot of different opportunities for those students interested in going into Vo-Tech.
Dan Martel 6:16
I think that's exciting because you know, we do need plumbers. We do need mechanics. We do need aviation technicians, those kinds of things. The fact that the OCCF offers scholarships for Vo-Tech is pretty exciting as well.
Jessica Schwager 6:27
Yes, it is.
Dan Martel 6:29
What's the best way for students to learn about the scholarships that the Oklahoma City Community Foundation offers?
Jessica Schwager 6:34
What I always say, because I have a lot of students and parents reaching out to me and saying, Hey, this is a little bit about me or about my student. What am I eligible for? And unfortunately, I don't know everything about that student. I can't really tell a list of scholarships that they might be eligible for. For instance, if that student goes to Norman North High School at Norman and they're playing football they might be eligible, are two different scholarships we have to offer, but they might have not told me that they're playing football or something like that. I always recommend to them to go to our scholarship website, www.occf.org/scholarships. There's going to be a 'How To Apply' video on that website. They'll watch that, they'll create an account in our scholarship system. Then what happens is the students will kind of create this profile about themselves and then our website will recommend scholarships for them to apply for. I think the best bet is just to go to our website, create an account and then it will recommend opportunities for them.
Dan Martel 7:32
Okay. Let's say you've got a handful of students. They've all applied. What's the next step? How are these, how are certain students awarded? How did the recipients receive the news that, Hey, you've been selected to receive a scholarship?
Jessica Schwager 7:47
So, we have hit the spring scholarship season where we have a lot of deadlines happening. We have quite a few deadlines coming up March 1st. What will happen as students will apply for those scholarships? Then what we do is we enlist the help of people in our community, people at our foundation, people from local nonprofits to help us review all of those scholarship applications. It's a very intensive, very competitive process. I do recommend to students that they make sure that all of their applications are complete. Make sure they're reading the instructions, applying for the scholarships that they're eligible for and making sure all of those applications are complete. If the application requires a transcript, be sure a transcript is submitted and attached.
Once that happens, once the applications close, what we do is we look at all the applications, we get them out to our reviewers to review. Then typically it us take about two to three weeks for those reviews to take place. Once the reviews take place and an awardee has been determined we will send that awardee a letter in the mail. Then a lot of times we are doing emails as well, just because we know that we don't want to keep students waiting for a lot of those scholarships. But then also a lot of times we're actually able to go to that student's awards banquet in May and present the student with the scholarship at that time. It really is kind of a waiting game for students right now. Once they apply on March 1st, then we will hopefully get all that awarded information out by mid-May at the latest, whenever their awards ceremonies take place.
Dan Martel 9:18
Now I know that one of the things the foundation does is hold luncheons for these, what you call community foundation scholars. Can you tell us how that works and how those students are selected?
Jessica Schwager 9:29
Yes, well, the past couple of years, unfortunately because of the pandemic, we haven't been able to do those lunches. Fingers crossed we're able to do them this year. That group of students is actually selected through an application process in our online website that closed in December. It's our earliest deadline and this group of students they were reviewed by their high school counselors. They were known for kind of their community service. They had to have a certain GPA and so they were selected and then they have to be approved by our scholarship committee, which is this governing board that we have.
Then we also have a group of students in addition to those community foundation scholars who are first generation scholars. They apply the same kind of similar way, they're selected, then we invite both of those groups of students to our luncheons. We have the luncheons over a series of four days. We invite those students from 54 different high schools in central Oklahoma to come to the luncheons. We break them up to about 50 to 60 students per day. What's really neat is they'll get the opportunity to meet us at the foundation, see the foundation, get a really nice lunch. Then we also invite any donors to their scholarships, to those banquets as well. They get a chance to connect with their donors.
Dan Martel 10:40
That's exciting. That's really cool. I am curious about this. Have you ever had a student that's received a scholarship from the foundation since you've been the head of the department here that maybe have gone to college and maybe came back a few years later just to say, thank you.
Jessica Schwager 10:55
Yes, we have that all the of time. I think that's actually probably the most rewarding part of working this job. In fact, it was really neat. I connected with a student a couple years ago when I first started at the program and she actually reached out to me, it would've been last year and she said, I received this scholarship. I just wanted to know how I can help you all. I want to spread the word about scholarships. What's really neat about her, her name is Sophie Graham and she is featured in our 'How To Apply' video on all of her websites because she just reached out and said, how can I help? What can I do? She was more than willing to come up here and film a video for us. She did a great job. A lot of times we have those students who come up and thank us for everything we've done.
Dan Martel 11:35
That's great. It's always nice to know that your hard work is thanked every now and then. Okay, Jess, one more time, what is the best way for students who'd like to apply for a scholarship what do they need to do?
Jessica Schwager 11:46
Well, they need to get on it right now. Do not wait. If you're listening to this right now, make sure that you get into our website, go to www.occf.org/scholarships. There will be a 'How To Apply' video on that website, watch the video. Then there's a link to our scholarship application through there. I think it's very important students watch that video because it's going to kind of walk them through the process and how to create an account and an application. Then they'll at that application. I'd say, get on it right now. We have a lot of deadlines coming up, especially a big March 1st deadline. Do not wait, get on it now. If they have any questions at all, our contact information is right there on our website, www.occf.org/scholarships. So, reach out to us if they have questions.
Dan Martel 12:28
All right. If you're a student right now and you're looking to go to college or a Vo-Tech, or trying to enhance your future career with a great scholarship from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, you'll definitely want to go to www.occf.org/scholarships. If you're a parent out there listening, you just heard it's the same address. Jessica, thanks again for being with us, enlightening us about scholarships. It looks like you all have been very busy and will be very busy in the coming weeks, plowing through applications, making students very happy by selecting some of the scholarship recipients for 2022. It's exciting. Good luck with that.
Jessica Schwager 13:05
Thank you so much, Dan.
Dan Martel 13:08
Now we want to bring in Rick Fernandez, Rick works a lot with guidance counselors across the state, and when it comes to helping students learn about scholarships, he'd be the guy to go to at OCCF. Rick, welcome to the pod today.
Rick Fernandez 13:19
Great to be here.
Dan Martel 13:20
Well, glad you're here. Let's just jump right in Rick. What role does a guidance counselor play in the role of actually helping students when it comes to applying for various scholarships?
Rick Fernandez 13:30
Well, for many students and families the guidance counselor may be their only source for information on college admissions and financial aid. We rely on counselors across the state to assist us for scholarship promotion and helping students apply.
Dan Martel 13:42
So, what's the role of the Community Foundation and how do you all work with guidance counselors?
Rick Fernandez 13:47
Well, I manage the Central Oklahoma Guidance Counselor Network. It's a trustee initiative as well as various other scholarships across the state. Through the Guidance Counselor Network, we host two free workshops a year for counselors that feature specific information on college admissions, financial aid and campus visits to university, colleges and technology centers in Oklahoma and neighboring states.
Dan Martel 14:09
So, do you actually go out to the schools across the state and make visits? Do you supply them the, the school counselors with some kind of information packet? How does all that work?
Rick Fernandez 14:19
Yes. I go and so does the scholarship staff. We attend college fairs and student application workshops at schools in central Oklahoma, and in various communities across the state. We do scholarship brochure mailers statewide, as well as social media promotion.
Dan Martel 14:36
I'm curious to know, just with Oklahoma City Community Foundation, obviously being located here, percentage of applicants that come from outside of the Metro area, do you have that stat?
Rick Fernandez 14:47
I don't have a particular percentage, but I would say 60% of our applications come from central Oklahoma and probably the other 35 to 40% do come outside the central Oklahoma.
Dan Martel 14:58
All right. You get quite a bit that are applying for the scholarships here. That's that's excellent. I was curious to know how you all work with some of the rural areas. You mentioned 35-40% come outside the metro too.
Rick Fernandez 15:10
I would say counselors in all school districts work very hard to assist students in the college and career application process. We cannot get the students awarded without their assistance. Fortunately, we have a liaison named Wanda Minter and she is our liaison that works directly with rural schools in the Lawton Community Foundation. She is terrific.
Dan Martel 15:28
So COVID has kinda played a real interesting role in so many factors of our lives over the last couple years. I'm sure that it's affected scholarships. People interested in applying and maybe I won't go to school this time or whatever. How has that worked in terms of the increase or decrease in the number of applications you all see here?
Rick Fernandez 15:51
Initially we saw a decrease in the number of applications when COVID hit and the schools were forced to go virtual. We did see a significant drop off, but we quickly rebounded this fall as schools opened back up and they were no longer full-time virtual. The application process, we pretty well rebounded from we were a year and a half ago.
Dan Martel 16:13
Well, that's good news and people are finally starting to take it serious again and get out there. What else, Rick, is there anything else you can tell us about this particular counselor group?
Rick Fernandez 16:25
Well, the Central Oklahoma Guidance Counselor Network consists of 54 schools here in central Oklahoma. Specifically, we have some guaranteed scholarships at those schools for first generation students and students that meet a specific GPA requirement. It's a great opportunity. It's not necessarily a need-based scholarship, and we probably do anywhere from 150-200 awards out of this trustee initiative scholarship program each year.
Dan Martel 16:50
That's exciting. We were talking to Jessica Schwager just before you came on and didn't realize, but this is, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation is the largest independent scholarship provider in the state, which is a fact that we want as many people to know as possible.
Rick Fernandez 17:05
Right. We didn't start out that way, but thankfully for our donors in the community they have made it happen.
Dan Martel 17:12
Fantastic. Well, Rick, thank for being with us today. This is Rick Fernandez, the Coordinator of Central Oklahoma Guidance Counselor Network with the foundation. Thanks for being with us.
Rick Fernandez 17:21
Dan Martel 17:25
Now I want to bring in Carolina Garcia, a student at Oklahoma City University who received the Dortha Dever Business Scholarship from the foundation. Welcome Carolina. Glad you're here.
Carolina Garcia 17:34
Hello. Thank you for having me.
Dan Martel 17:36
Now I want to put this particular scholarship in context, Dortha Dever was a successful business woman here in Oklahoma City, who prior to her death established this scholarship for women who wanted to major in business at Oklahoma City University with a preference to those majoring in finance, accounting management, or economics. Obviously, you're one of those students.
Carolina Garcia 17:58
Yes, that is me.
Dan Martel 17:59
Well, welcome again. Let's just jump right in Carolina. What was it like early on in the process, as you were beginning to explore various scholarships that might have been made available to you?
Carolina Garcia 18:12
Well it was definitely on the harder side. I think that when I first started looking for scholarships, I didn't necessarily know where to go. But I do remember that my high school counselor was the one who told me about this foundation and was like you know what, why don't you just try it? The worst that can happen is no, is not get a scholarship. It was a bit hard before I found this foundation, particularly because once you found this one, I think that it was easy because you had a whole list of stuff and it was specifically in Oklahoma. It was a lot less competitive than the bigger scholarships that you find all around the state.
Dan Martel 18:50
Fantastic. How did you hear about the Oklahoma City Community Foundation? I know you mentioned your counselor that kind of talked to you, were there other students that maybe you knew that may have talked about it at all?
Carolina Garcia 19:02
I've seen a lot. I think that upperclassmen sometimes that they would announce that they got scholarships. I would always be curious of about where they got these scholarships from. I think a lot of the times that I reached out, it always ended up coming back to the same Oklahoma City Foundation. I think that it was easier in that specs because everyone was going towards the same foundation for scholarships.
Dan Martel 19:30
Absolutely. I want to talk about this particular one that you received the Dortha Dever. What were some of the steps that you took to apply for this particular scholarship?
Carolina Garcia 19:41
I had to apply for it. I think it was from my sophomore, the summer before my junior year. It was pretty nice because I think my counselor at my university was the one who reached out and sent the application and said that they had this awesome scholarship that not a lot of people were applying to. I jumped at the opportunity. It was kind of just your basic application, make sure you had all the requirements, which thankfully I hit every one. I'm a student, I'm business, I had the grade point average and everything so it worked out. It was filling out the information, I believe there was still a scholarship essay but nothing too hard. Everything, it just felt like it fit perfectly.
Dan Martel 20:29
That's really good news. How did you find out you were chosen to be the recipient of this scholarship? How did that happen?
Carolina Garcia 20:37
Well, actually I believe I had an email, but it was not on my school email, so I didn't check it. I was pleasantly surprised by the mail, the letter in the mail. I came home and my mom, obviously I have that kind of mom who there was no boundaries and she opened my mail for me. She had already opened it and she's like, Hey, I think you got something from your school. I was like what is it? I opened it and I was like, this isn't from my school mom, this is from a scholarship. It was like a really nice pleasant surprise to come home and see like the letter and it explaining to you the Dortha Dever scholarship and the amount and you know, all the requirements.
Dan Martel 21:18
What did your mom say when you let her know?
Carolina Garcia 21:20
Oh, I think at this point she's not as impressed as she was when I first started applying to scholarships, but she was very proud of me for sure. I think she was like, well, like how did you do it? You didn't even tell me you applied. Sometimes I don't really tell her when I applied to all the scholarships just for the, you know, she just is I'm her daughter so she expects me to get them all. She thinks I'm most deserving.
Dan Martel 21:45
What are mom's for? Absolutely. I get it. Tell me a little bit about what you're studying now and do you think that this scholarship was a big help in helping you attend college?
Carolina Garcia 21:56
Yeah, so currently I'm studying marketing business admin with a major in marketing. I plan on going into accounting actually for my masters which is a little weird jump. Right. But I think your gen-eds are for that so their business gen-eds make you try all aspects of the business school. I think that accounting was the one for me and I really enjoyed it. But I also really like marketing. I thought, why not the best of both worlds? When I applied, I didn't really think I was going to get it because I was like, I need to explain to them that I'm marketing, but I want accounting. Maybe they won't give it to me because the preference in accounting. But it worked out thankfully and it's still my path, it's in the business school and anything business is really what I enjoy.
Dan Martel 22:48
Carolina Garcia 22:49
The scholarship was really a pleasant surprise because I do...a lot of my scholarships are need based, financial based. At the farther you go into your college career, the less you have of that money that you start off with. The bills started to get a little higher as you go on. It was really nice because it really helped cushion the spot where I was needing to start to pay for it on my own.
Dan Martel 23:19
Okay. It's helped you then in the financial sense, which is, I guess what they're all about.
Carolina Garcia 23:24
Dan Martel 23:27
One more question here. What kinds of things made it a little easier once you received the scholarship?
Carolina Garcia 23:33
Yeah, it helped me with my tuition which was probably the biggest help for sure. I was able to buy my books on campus, which made it so much easier. It really helped in the sense that I was able to just like not have to worry so much.
Dan Martel 23:52
And textbooks are not cheap anymore. That is a fact. Well thank you for being with us today, Carolina and congratulations on being awarded the Dortha Dever scholarship. I hope you'll tell others that you know about applying at the Oklahoma City Community Foundation when they might be in the market looking for scholarships and we enjoyed having you on the program.
Carolina Garcia 24:12
Of course. Thank you.
Dan Martel 24:13
Well that about wraps it up for us today. I want to thank you all for listening and I hope we've brought you some good information when it comes to applying for scholarships. Listen, if you're a student out there and wanting to go to college, or if you're a parent of a potential college bound student, just visit us at www.occf.org/scholarships, because this is the time of year where you need to start diving in and looking at all the different types of scholarships that are available to your student.
Again, the OCCF is the largest independent provider of scholarships in the state, and hopefully we'll be able to help you garner one of those scholarships for the coming school year. Join us again next month, when we'll have a robust discussion on Oklahoma City's parks and trails, that will include guest Leah Philpot, who you may have seen on television as the foundation’s KeepMovingOKC spokesperson as well as Marsha Funk and our own Brian Daugherty, as he will bring us up to speed on some of the thousands of daffodils that are now looming right here in OKC. You won't want to miss that.
I want to thank Jessica Schwager, Rick Fernandez again, and Carolina Garcia for being on the program today. We look forward to having you back with us next month until then I'm Dan Martel. We'll see you again on Creating Impact Through Giving.