Schol­ar­ships are about con­nec­tions, not cash

The Washington Post Sunday - - TAKING STOCK - Dan Beyers daniel.beyers@wash­post.com

The cost of at­tend­ing the Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land’s cam­pus in Col­lege Park this com­ing year is about $24,594, in­clud­ing room and board. And that’s if you are a res­i­dent of the state. Non­res­i­dents will pay $45,742. At Ge­orge­town Uni­ver­sity, the pri­vate school tab can run up to $64,540.

So at first blush, a one-time $10,000 schol­ar­ship from the Eco­nomic Club of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., amounts to lit­tle more than a down pay­ment at best.

But as I learned last week, that grant can be a golden ticket— an en­tree to a spe­cial club for stu­dents will­ing to push the door open.

Take Nico Hin­kle. He was a 2009 re­cip­i­ent of an Eco­nomic Club schol­ar­ship. Apoor kid from a rough D.C. neigh­bor­hood, just get­ting into a col­lege was an ac­com­plish­ment. But he re­called how club staff would check up on him, help him deal with the sud­den loss of a fa­ther and run in­ter­fer­ence when he en­coun­tered red tape at Florida A&M Uni­ver­sity, so far from home.

“The money can only go so far,” said Hin­kle, who be­came the first in his fam­ily to grad­u­ate col­lege. The ex­pe­ri­ences he gained ul­ti­mately led to a job as a prop­erty as­so­ciate at Brook­field Of­fice Prop­er­ties, man­ag­ing one of its com­mer­cial build­ings here.

Hin­kle was the guest speaker at a cer­e­mony on Thurs­day to honor this year’s re­cip­i­ents.

“Please don’t look at the Eco­nomic Club as just a money gen­er­a­tor— look at it as a re­source hub,” Hin­kle told his fel­low re­cip­i­ents.

Hin­kle is be­ing gra­cious. It’s im­pos­si­ble to over­state the for­ti­tude he brought to his pur­suit, the ob­sta­cles he had to over­come.

“My neigh­bor­hood was a hec­tic one, filled with drugs, vi­o­lence and 24-hour po­lice su­per­vi­sion. I was al­ways los­ing a friend ei­ther by jail or death, and that took a toll on many. How­ever, I per­se­vered, and I re­fused to let my en­vi­ron­ment de­ter­mine my fu­ture.”

When Hin­kle re­ceived his money, a schol­ar­ship was pretty much the ex­tent of the pro­gram. Over the years, the club has ex­panded the size and scope of the ef­fort. It be­gan of­fer­ing seminars in busi­ness lead­er­ship. It bolted on a men­tor­ing pro­gram. It is adding a for­mal in­tern­ship com­po­nent. To date, $2.4 mil­lion has been awarded to 292 stu­dents from Wash­ing­ton, in­clud­ing a new class of 48.

The growth of the pro­gram is due mostly to the largess of club pres­i­dent David M. Ruben­stein, a co-founder of the Car­lyle Group. Ruben­stein, whose blue-col­lar par­ents never grad­u­ated high school, said he re­mem­bered what a boost it was to him to re­ceive a schol­ar­ship. He got the idea of re­turn­ing the fa­vor af­ter he took over as pres­i­dent of the Eco­nomic Club in 2008. Back then, the club was known mostly as a place to net­work, nosh and hear speeches from busi­ness big­wigs.

“I thought if we are a bunch of busi­ness peo­ple in Wash­ing­ton, and I would say more white than non­white, do we not have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to the com­mu­nity thatwe are part of, to give back to the com­mu­nity a lit­tle bit more than just hav­ing lunches and in­ter­views?”

He put up some cash, fig­ur­ing, “If it doesn’t work, how bad could it be to give peo­ple some money?”

It turns out the money was just a start.

HAIK NALTCHAYAN/ECO­NOMIC CLUB OF WASH­ING­TON, D.C.

Nico Hin­kle, a 2009 schol­ar­ship win­ner, spoke on Thurs­day.

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