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Decade of Opportunity

Walter Scott, Jr. Career Pathway Scholarship creates decade of opportunity for Career and Technical Education students at Nebraska community colleges.

Scholarship recipients pose for group photo

Walter Scott, Jr. was a builder, both in practice and through his vision for his hometown. His leadership of Omaha-based Fortune 500 engineering firm, Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., as well as some of the city’s most prominent philanthropic endeavors, shaped not only his own legacy but also the quality of life for tens of thousands who have and continue to live in the area.

The Walter Scott, Jr. Career Pathway Scholarship, a new scholarship and employment program provided by the Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation to three Nebraska community colleges, will further broaden Scott’s sizable impact on state education well into the future. For the next 10 years, the Walter Scott, Jr. Career Pathway Scholarship will provide more than 750 Nebraska postsecondary students with the opportunity to complete academic programs at Metropolitan Community College, Southeast Community College and Central Community College “with little to no debt.”

During the 2022 fall quarter, MCC piloted the first cohort of Scott Pathway Scholars — 28 students from communities in the College’s four-county service area, including Fremont and Blair, but also reaching students from nearby towns like Wahoo and Homer. Based on the cost of tuition per credit hour at MCC, the program creates the opportunity for up to 250 students to complete the program by the 2031-32 academic year, with a cap of 50 MCC students each year. The program will be fully implemented at SCC and CCC this fall.

Recent high school graduates (21 or under) who are U.S. citizens or permanent legal residents wishing to pursue approved MCC Career and Technical Education programs of study requiring a two-year degree or less are eligible to apply. Preference is given to students with career interest and program alignment, resilience and financial need as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), although financial need is not required.

Scott, who maintained a low public profile despite being the most influential philanthropist in Omaha’s history, saw education as a catalyst for life-changing impact for families and the basis for a skilled and dedicated workforce to anchor communities, said Lisa Goodwin, assistant director of Education for the Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation.

“Walter often emphasized that education is the one thing that cannot be taken away from you,” Goodwin said. “He referred to scholarships and education as an investment, and if you stop to think about it, he was spot on. It’s an investment in the future that improves the lives of others and society as a whole.”

The Walter Scott, Jr. Career Pathway Scholarship was established months after he died in September 2021, but Scott clearly cast the vision. The decision to pilot the program at MCC was based on a more than 20-year relationship between the Foundation and the College. The Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation has been a philanthropic partner to MCC, providing resources for capital projects, scholarships and other programs and student support.

Goodwin said program partners were selected based on their success in supporting students, strong connections with local industries, superior job placement data and commitment to contributing resources to the partnership.

“[MCC president] Randy Schmailzl and Metropolitan Community College have been trusted partners for many years, with a track record of being good stewards, forward-thinking and with the ability to put ideas into motion,” said Goodwin, an MCC employee of 14 years. 

In addition to completing the program with minimal student debt, intended outcomes include student participation in a paid internship or sponsorship program, completion of a credential or degree and employment in a high-skill, -demand and -wage career six months after completion.

“By providing opportunities that are not typically associated with a two-year scholarship, we aim to shift the perspective on career and technical education to help meet the growing demand for skilled workers and provide valuable resources to businesses and industries,” Goodwin said.

A holistic, student-focused approach

Nate Barry, vice president of Strategic Operations and Initiatives at MCC, said the Walter Scott, Jr. Career Pathway Scholarship addresses the need for advanced skills in the workforce as careers in the trades become more technologically advanced.

“Formalized training is and will continue to be required for entry-level positions in many career paths in the skilled trades, and MCC has positioned itself as the leading educational and training provider for these careers,” Barry said. “This scholarship provides a clear path toward a high-wage, high-skilled and high-need career for many students who have the desire.”

MCC industry partnerships are integrated into the program through co-ops, part-time employment and/or internships, creating earn-and-learn opportunities while students are enrolled. Companies in short supply of qualified workers benefit from a level of candidate credibility and vetting that is difficult to find, Barry said.

“From an employer’s perspective, when they receive an application from a Scott Pathway Scholar, they know the student is serious about their career and driven to succeed,” Barry said.

Barry said the program shows the power of philanthropy, education and industry working together. The holistic approach to the student drives successful outcomes, he said. 

“What excites me most is the dedication of the Suzanne & Walter Scott Foundation and MCC to develop and support the whole student. While the students receive excellent technical training, they also go through a robust leadership development program, not only preparing them for a great career, but all the things that life puts in their path,” Barry said.

Students enrolled in the program are guided along their educational journey by Scott Pathway coordinator, Racquel Henderson, who works exclusively with students in the program as a connector to opportunities and resources. Goodwin said Henderson’s past work at MCC as a success navigator and long history of community involvement made her an ideal fit for the foundation-funded position solely dedicated to successful program outcomes. 

“Racquel’s passion for education and the community is apparent in her work,” Goodwin said of the North Omaha community leader and Institute for Career Advancement Needs (ICAN) 2023 Women’s Leadership Conference award recipient. “She knows how to relate to students while also keeping them accountable. She’s really good at relationship building and providing the one-on-one connection students need to see the program to completion.”

Henderson said she created a customized relationship-building curriculum for MCC Scott Pathway Scholars. 

“Building the relationships is the biggest piece and the most difficult part,” Henderson said. “But once students understand that they really can come to me about anything — it doesn’t matter if it’s a mama, boyfriend or girlfriend issue, or street stuff — when they know that they are in a safe, judgment-free space, that seals the deal for everything else. Identifying and understanding those academic barriers allows us to be proactive in addressing them. When my students start acting different, I pick up on it right away.” 

Henderson said the student-first approach and prescribed one-on-one conversations, which happen as often as needed but a minimum of two times each quarter, are keys to success. 

“When I am getting to know the students at first,  I don’t talk about MCC. They’ll get to know their teachers and the campus, and they’ll get through their classes naturally. It’s the outside factors that they have a hard time balancing, so we spend time on those initially,” Henderson said. Henderson facilitates the Scott Pathway Academy, a foundation program designed around four pillars of success: communication and employability skills, leadership development, self-care and well-being and community engagement. 

Goodwin said students participate in seminars and workshops on topics that include employability skills, physical and mental health and financial literacy. They are also required to participate in community service projects and leadership development training. Goodwin and Henderson said for some participants, this can be the first exposure to focused conversations on these topics. The feedback they are receiving from parents is encouraging, Goodwin said.     

“One father said to me, ‘You know, the money is great, but it’s the small things you are providing, like the accountability and coaching, programming outside of the classroom and connections that are being made — all those extras are really making a difference,’” Goodwin said.

A lasting impact on Nebraska postsecondary education

With the first cohort of students through the first year of their scholarship, student performance is promising. The scholar retention rate is 93%.

The programs at SEC and CCC have a living-learning component in which Scott Pathway Scholars live together on campus. While there isn’t a living arrangement integrated into the MCC program, Henderson said Scott Pathway Scholars at the College are developing a close connection. 

“There’s a camaraderie that has developed through programming and going to events together. They talk to each other and hang out together when it’s not required, and I love that, because peer connections and connections on campus make the most successful college students,” Henderson said. “If one student doesn’t want to go to class, one of their peers is pushing them, saying, ‘Come on, we’ve got to knock this out.’ They’re there for each other.”

The way Scott Pathway Scholars lead one another to the attainment of personal goals is reflective of the way Scott, in a career as a builder and civil engineer, challenged others to join him in constructing a better future for all. 

From the nationally recognized research facilities at UNMC to the first dormitories built on UNO’s thriving Scott Campus and the countless number of students who have benefitted from his generosity, Scott’s impact on the state’s educational ecosystem continues to broaden, including expanding support for Nebraska’s community colleges. 

Goodwin said Scott had a steady reminder for the students who participated in the foundation’s scholarship and career programs. 

“Walter would frequently tell Scott scholars, ‘My job is done. Now it’s up to you to make sure my investment lets you do great things,’” Goodwin said.