A Step Up 

Shelby County launches scholarship and mentorship program for technical and community college students.

Last month, Shelby County mayor A C Wharton announced the first STEP toward helping educate local community-college and technical-school students.

STEP, a post-secondary education program funded in part by the Assisi Foundation of Memphis, AT&T, and Volunteer Mid-South, awards students scholarships and pairs them with mentors.

In the fall, full-time students enrolled in their first year at a Shelby County state-funded community college or technical training curriculum will be eligible for the program. Along with a community service requirement, students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and apply for federal and state grants. The scholarship is designed to bridge the gap between the financial aid students receive and the cost of tuition.

"We are extraordinarily pleased that Mayor Wharton has a vision to ensure that deserving students achieve their educational goals," says Nathan Essex, president of Southwest Tennessee Community College. "Many first-generation students will certainly benefit from this outstanding initiative."

Rhonda Turner, Wharton's communications coordinator, says that the total amount of STEP funding remains to be determined, but that the program hopes to accomodate all students who apply.

Program participants will be paired with mentors who are part of the mayor's 100, a volunteer team of online mentors. STEP board member Nicole Roy says mentors will help students with academics, community service obligations, and career planning.

"I will be able to monitor the students' progress through the web and gauge their success," she says.

By helping students, the founders of STEP hope to increase the amount of skilled workers throughout Shelby County.

"STEP provides the opportunity for students and mentors to form a supportive network," Wharton says. "It imbues our own philanthropic spirit and keeps students on track to complete their post-secondary education and successfully enter our workforce with valuable skills and training."

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