The Phillips Scholars Program: Much More than a Scholarship

By August 22, 2013Foundation Blog

What if you could tap the passion and talent of college students to change the world? What if a passion for community service helped pay for your college education? And what if we nurtured the next generation of community change leaders by providing real world experience?

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In 1994, the Foundation’s Executive Director Pat Cummings sat down with David Laird, the President of the Minnesota Private College Council to discuss their future funding relationship.  You see, the Foundation had been supporting the Minnesota Private College Council for several decades with modest operating support.  Jay Phillips had provided this support out of his belief that education was a clear path to success, and the Council had become a well established conduit to supporting students with financial need across the state. Pat knew that the modest support the Foundation provided to the Minnesota Private College Council could be more meaningful if it was more targeted and had a clearly articulated purpose tied back to the legacy of Jay & Rose Phillips. After many conversations and idea exploration, they hatched the Phillips Scholars Program.

The Phillips Scholars Program was established “to perpetuate the legacy of service to others reflected in the lives of Jay and Rose Phillips, and to support and encourage students who have the potential for community leadership and may be inclined to dedicate a portion of their personal and professional lives to improving our society.”

Each year, six scholars are selected from 16 of Minnesota’s private colleges. As part of their application, the students must design and present a summer service project that addresses a critical need in their community. This focus on community service as the defining scholarship element as well as applicants from across 16 of Minnesota’s private colleges, makes this scholarship program unique across the country. It’s also the size of the scholarship that makes it incredibly meaningful. Phillips Scholars receive a total of $16,500 over the course of their junior and senior years. This includes a $6,000 junior year scholarship, a $6,000 senior year scholarship, a $4,000 summer stipend and $500 for materials and supplies for their summer projects.

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Now in its 19th year, the program has surpassed 100 Phillips Scholars, and the Foundation has contributed over $2 million in scholarship support. The following video was produced as part of the 15-year celebration a few years back. As you watch it, you will see the impact this program has had on both the scholars and the service project participants, and you will see that the program is much more than just a scholarship.

15 Year Phillips Scholars Video

This year, I had the opportunity to visit all six of the Phillips Scholars as they implemented their summer projects. Each spring at the annual Phillips Scholars luncheon, scholars tell us what they did last summer with their service projects. Those presentations did not prepare me for seeing these incredible young leaders in action. I was both inspired and exhilarated watching them tell stories, lead activities, and make significant and lasting impressions on those with whom they worked. Here’s just a sample of this year’s scholars’ summer projects:

  •  Jiccarra from St. Kate’s helped seniors stay active through a variety of activities, storytelling, dance and food.
  • Mitchell from St. Thomas worked with elementary and junior high school kids on anti-bullying strategies in St. Cloud.
  • Kristy from St. Scholastica designed and developed a community garden while working with formerly homeless moms and their kids on nutrition and gardening in Duluth.
  • Phoebe from Carleton helped open a teen clinic in Faribault where she provided pregnancy prevention education for low-income 9th and 10th graders.
  • Sandy from Gustavus Adolphus is giving voice to Hmong youth by reviving a magazine for Hmong teens in an online format.
  • Estefania from Augsburg provided financial literacy education to inner-city high school youth.

Impressive….each and every one of them.Mitchell 6.1

Most of these projects are being integrated into the nonprofit organization or community that hosted the scholars. In this way, the projects have life beyond the summer and a much longer impact. Imagine a community garden that produces fruits and vegetables for years to come while teaching young moms about nutrition and food. Imagine at-risk teens with a safe place to learn about healthy sexuality and a place that helps parents talk to their kids. Imagine kids with the tools they need to combat bullying, everywhere and every day.  Imagine active seniors. Imagine….

That’s what the Phillips Scholars program is ultimately about:  helping young people imagine a better world and then providing them the tools and resources to make that dream a reality. Ok, so maybe these scholars aren’t “literally” changing the world. They are, however, having a significant impact on a small part of the world. More importantly, these future leaders are learning the value of life-long service to others while role modeling for their friends and families that improving the community is worthwhile as a career and an avocation.

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Nearly 20 years later, it’s gratifying to see that the Phillips Scholars program continues to be a powerful way for financially needy students to realize their community change dreams, build their leadership skills, and help pay for their education. It’s the triple bottom line.  In this way, the legacy of Jay and Rose Phillips lives on.