Harvard graduate launches scholarship programme for Jamaicans

Harvard graduate launches scholarship programme for Jamaicans

By NADINE WILSON Career & Education reporter

Saturday, June 07, 2014

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HAVING a good education is something Harvard graduate Charissa Lawrence doesn't take for granted, as she knows that not everyone has the resources to acquire this. It is this reality and her love for Jamaica that inspired her to start two scholarship programmes recently to assist students who wish to pursue undergraduate studies locally and overseas.

Lawrence was born in New York City to Jamaican parents, and sees the island as her second home. Her brother, she said, benefited immensely from the Jamaican school system, and this has made her a strong advocate and supporter of Jamaican schools.

"I went back to Jamaica every Christmas and every summer while growing up, and I am very much aware of what goes on in the island. My aunt is actually a retired school teacher," she said.

Lawrence went to Northwestern University where she received a degree in industrial engineering and management studies. She was accepted into Eaton Corporation's leadership development programme, which gave her the opportunity to help organisations develop successful business models in Europe and the USA. She then moved on to the Harvard Business School and became a Wall Street investment banker after being awarded the Goldman Sachs MBA fellowship.

Although her life is quite fulfilling as an international strategic business professional, she finds that she is always in search of ways she can give back to the Jamaican community.

Starting the Grace Scholarship Fund seemed a natural thing when she considered that many Jamaican parents find it difficult to fund their children's tuition. Having visited Jamaica frequently over the years, she knows that education is a substantial expense which is often sacrificed to provide basic necessities such as food and to pay for utilities. Through the fund, Lawrence hopes to offer two types of scholarships -- the Fly Away Scholarship for Jamaicans attending universities abroad, and the Hummingbird Scholarship for those pursuing studies locally.

"The whole idea of the fund is for me to give back to Jamaica in a small way to begin with, because we are just starting off, so we are trying to see how the community responds to these scholarships," she told Career & Education.

The scholarships are valued between US$500 to $1,000, and the money for now will be provided out of pocket, although Lawrence says in the future she hopes to partner with other individuals who express interest to help. She hopes to provide scholarships for postgraduate students in the future as well.

"At this point it's going to be for people leaving high school and going on to undergraduate studies," she pointed out.

Persons interested in the scholarships are being asked to fill out the application form and follow the instructions at the scholarship website http://www.gracefund.org. The deadline for the Fly Away Scholarship is July 4, while for the Hummingbird Scholarship it will be somewhere between mid to late August.

"On the website the criteria are listed. They have to be graduating from a Jamaican high school and will be attending college for the next six months," Lawrence said.

"We also have an application process and this asks questions about extra-curricular activities, your involvement in the classroom, and also one of the things that is really important to me is what they are doing outside of the classroom in terms of philanthropic activities and volunteering services."

Lawrence is also a venture philanthropist who is on the board of directors for the Fueling Good International organisation. The non-profit group supports both the Mustard Seed Communities and the Port Antonio Hospital.

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