As the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce prepares to award Accelerate Greater Charleston Scholarships on Tuesday, Goose Creek graduate and 2015 scholarship recipient Dustin Williams shared his experience with the Palmetto Business Daily.
"Without the scholarship, I wouldn't be who I am today," Williams recently told the Palmetto Business Daily.
The scholarship provides two years of tuition, fees and books at Trident Technical College. It is available to career academy graduates with a 2.0 to 2.9 GPA.
The chamber started the scholarship program in 2014 after seeing significant deficiencies in the results of a study on skills gaps in the area. Employers were not able to find the skilled workers they needed from the existing hiring pool, so jobs were going to people from other areas of the country who relocated just for the positions.
At the same time, the chamber dramatically expanded their support of the school-within-a-school program known as career academies, which are centered on particular career fields and disciplines, from business to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to information technology. The chamber assists schools through a business partner program that ties the curriculum to the business world.
"Career academies are not unusual," Mary Graham, the chamber's chief advancement officer, told the Palmetto Business Daily. "They're all over the country and they have been a very effective way at helping to increase high school graduation rates. ... We looked at this study and the gaps that we had, and said that's great if we increase high school graduation rates."
The scholarship was created as part of the effort to assist students in their career goals and train employees for the local job market. In 2014, the first year for the scholarship, 12 scholarships were awarded. The second year, Williams' graduation year, 15 scholarships were awarded. This year, 75 scholarships will be handed out.
Williams speaks highly of the career academy, and the education and training he has already received through his scholarship. His career academy experience was divided between the business and STEM programs.
"The career academy really gave me the knowledge I needed to know in order to pursue the career I wanted to do in life," Williams said. "And really on top of that the AGC scholarship was the cherry on top. It was like the icing on the cake. It topped it all off. It's set it in stone. The career academy is still performing and the scholarship is what set me off. I'm just going to college now with the scholarship. It's taken care of my degree and my certifications. It's a blessing. I'll tell that to you right now; I'm grateful for it."
Williams, who said he is usually an A and B student, saw a drop in grades later in high school because of family and general life stress. His school counselor introduced him to the AGC scholarship program.
"I can't emphasize it enough," Williams, who plans on continuing his education after getting his associate's degree at Trident, said. "I was in limbo... . I honestly felt like there was no hope until I was introduced to the scholarship. So in all honesty, if I didn't receive the scholarship, I would be one of those students that you see in tons and tons and tons of debt just to get a little bit in life. That's the gosh honest truth."
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