When I was 16, I had the same experience as most of you: I applied to a scholarship program, was interviewed in one of my life’s more terrifying afternoons, and was introduced to a university that I’d never dreamed of applying to, let alone matriculating. That was more than half of my life ago now: I was one of the first five Lenfest College Scholars, a guinea pig for the experiment of financially supporting and mentoring rural students through top colleges.

 

A lot has changed since then, both for me personally—I earned my driver’s license! I voted! I graduated from Columbia, then earned my doctorate in English, got married, and bought a house—and for the program. When I began, the Lenfest community, to me, was simply Roger Lehecka; Grahame Richards; and, of course, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest. Since then, I’ve watched the community grow by leaps and bounds. I attended Community Weekend sporadically at first and then regularly, as other Scholars became sources of wisdom, sounding boards, inspirations, and friends.

 

In 2016, I was asked to be the first Lenfest Scholar Alumni member of the Board of Directors, the group that strategizes and plans for the organization’s future. I was teaching courses at Penn State at the time and so was uniquely situated to provide perspective not only as an alumnus, but as an educator. As the Board’s first Scholar, I could provide firsthand knowledge of the Lenfest college experience, of what it was like to set foot on a campus where it felt like everybody else was better prepared—and had money to spend. The opportunity to be a Board member was one more additional, unexpected benefit of being a Lenfest Scholar: it gave me the professional experience of working with the board of a nonprofit organization, an experience that the Board plans to give other Scholar Alumni until one day, the entire Board is comprised of Scholars.

 

The Lenfest Board of Directors meets in person every six months, but its various committees and subcommittees talk much more often throughout the year, working through issues and coming up with recommendations for the Board to vote on at a later date. Since I joined the Board, the program, once slated to sundown with the depletion of funds, has been extended into perpetuity thanks to the immense generosity of an anonymous donor. It has erased the distinction between funding Scholars at public and private universities, and it has greatly expanded the SEEF (the Special Educational Expense Fund) so that every Scholar is guaranteed a one-time grant to aid in an internship or other expense at some point during their undergraduate years. The Board accepted the retirement of Roger Lehecka as program director (and then almost immediately insisted that he join the Board itself) and excitedly selected Suzi Nam as his successor. And Erin Crum—the second Scholar Alum Board Member—and I have been working on building the program’s alumni network with the help of the alumni subcommittee. In the future, we hope to contribute to the programming and focus of Community Weekends; to strengthen connections between Scholars throughout the rest of the year with in-person gatherings; and to provide Zoom sessions on issues that our backgrounds may have precluded from our lives, from changing career paths to just how mortgages work. The connections and knowledge we have accumulated are invaluable, and we’re hoping to make it even clearer that as a Lenfest Scholar, you have people that you can draw on, whether your concern be academic, personal, or professional.

 

I have been truly honored to be a part of this organization, to get to know and work with Gerry, Marguerite, Roger, Joe, and everyone else on the Board—and to bring all of the thoughts, concerns, and ideas that you’ve raised to the forefront. It has been tremendously heartening to see how seriously Scholars and Scholar Alumni take the responsibility of providing feedback to a program that may someday be ours to guide. As my time as a Board member draws to a close, I am grateful for the opportunity to have served—and I look forward to continuing to be a part of the Lenfest Scholars community.

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Reflections from Inside the Board

Joshua Smith

Scholar Alumni Board Member

LCSP 2002, Waynesboro Area Senior High School

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