June 23, 2022
By Aleena Sexton, Golden LEAF External Affairs Intern
One of the longest running programs of the Golden LEAF Foundation is the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program. Scholarships are available to students from qualifying counties, who demonstrate financial need, to help them attend college at participating North Carolina public or private institutions and community colleges. Golden LEAF’s goal is for scholarship recipients to gain the talent, knowledge, and skills needed to help their communities thrive and to increase the quantity and quality of graduates returning to rural communities. Since 2000, Golden LEAF has awarded over $55.2 million in scholarships to support more than 25,000 rural students attend college.
Although the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program has been around for more than two decades, the role of a full-time scholarship program manager has only existed for 10 months. This role was filled by Arlena Ratliff. I interviewed her to get a more in depth look at the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program and the new role of the Scholarship Program Manager.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background that led you to this role.
I taught in eastern North Carolina for six years in Halifax County at two different institutions. I then joined the staff with Teach for America and served as the Director of Incoming Corps Member Pipeline, helping to recruit and retain teachers throughout the country to come teach in eastern North Carolina. What I found is we don’t have a huge talent pool of credentialed teachers in North Carolina. To earn these credentials, you must have a four-year degree from college. I was really excited about working at Golden LEAF to support rural North Carolina students going to college and continuing their education so they can contribute back to the state, possibly by teaching.
Why did you want to work at Golden LEAF as the Scholarship Program Manager?
What really caught my eye about the position at Golden LEAF is the impact that it has on our state. Golden LEAF is extremely committed to building the workforce and economic opportunities for the people of our state from rural, tobacco-dependent, and economically-distressed communities. As someone from a rural community, I’m excited that Golden LEAF helps North Carolina continue to be a competitive state by supporting those communities that are not necessarily large or well-known. I know how important it is to have organizations and foundations support not only communities but also individuals with scholarships. Many students want to further their education but without financial support it is not always possible.
What are your responsibilities as Scholarship Program Manager?
Golden LEAF works with several other partners to make our scholarship program possible. I work with those entities who help us to accomplish our goals. These partners help us recruit students, select scholars, and offer enhancement opportunities such as leadership and internship opportunities. This role manages our scholarship program, making it so that we have a more streamlined process for communicating with potential scholars, current scholars, and alumni and for those who help to assist us with the Golden LEAF Scholarship Program.
Can you share an interesting story about a current scholar or alumni?
What has made my job even more meaningful this year is that one of my students that I taught in my very first year of teaching was a senior in high school this year. I had dinner with her on her 18th birthday, and she shared with me that she applied for a Golden LEAF Scholarship. I had no idea because we work with the State Education Assistance Authority, who reviews our scholarship applications and selects the students who will be recipients. I will never forget her texting me that she received the Golden LEAF Scholarship. I am just so excited for her because this particular student is from a rural community with a family that works extremely hard and contributes to their community, but this student would otherwise not be able to afford college. We are helping the students who need help. We are helping the students who are committed to their community. We are helping the students who will return to their community and continue to make it valuable and thriving.