For Honors College scholarship donors John and Sandy Potter, the personal connection is just as important a component of their support for students as the financial connection.
The Potters both had long careers at Oregon State. John worked for the United States Department of Agriculture in a lab on the edge of Oregon State’s campus and had an appointment in the horticulture department. Sandy did research and advising in the zoology department. In that position, she worked with students in the honors program that existed on OSU’s campus until the early 1990s, work that led her to serve on the committee that established the university’s Honors College in 1995.
After they retired – John in 1998 and Sandy in 2000 – they knew they wanted to continue supporting students.
“We had set up scholarships in our wills, but then we talked to friends who had a good time meeting with students. When I was at OSU, I did a lot of advising, and the importance of meeting with students came from that. I was interested in what they were doing and what their dreams were,” Sandy says.
John and Sandy decided to establish a scholarship in the Honors College more quickly, with the guideline that their award support students through several years, allowing for them to get to know their scholarship’s beneficiaries.
One of the students who received the Potter’s scholarship was Lexi Welch, who graduated in 2017 with her HBA in human development sciences and a minor in public health. She currently works with the Oregon Department of Human Services to help customers receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. Ultimately, she would like to work in adoption assistance, helping children find families; her honors thesis focused on racial, ethnic and economic disparities in the Oregon foster care system.
Receiving the Potter scholarship allowed Welch to focus on schoolwork. “I still worked quite a bit, but not as much as I would have had to without their support,” Welch says, adding that this also allowed her to pursue experiential learning opportunities, such as an Honors College service trip to Ethiopia.
But the Potters’ assistance extended beyond the scholarship. Sandy helped Welch apply and prepare her interview for another scholarship, given by the Philanthropic Educational Organization, which focuses on the education of women. Over time, Welch became close to the Potters.
“They ask questions about you and remember things that you don’t expect them to remember. They have a genuine interest in the students, in our lives,” Welch says.
“I appreciated that connection. I’m from Bend and have a sister going to OSU, but I didn’t have any connections within the community, so that made me feel like I had a support system in Corvallis. I’ve stayed connected with John and Sandy. After graduation, we met up before I moved to Portland, and we still email occasionally. John and Sandy care about who they’re giving money to. Once they invest, they are not only financially invested in your success,” Welch says.
Senior Jessica Bramlett, who will graduate in the spring with a degree in biohealth sciences in the pre-physician assistant program, has known she wanted to work in healthcare since a friend was diagnosed with cancer and overcame the disease.
She plans to take a gap year after graduation to gain some working experience, and then she plans to apply to physician assistant programs and focus on pediatric oncology. Throughout her time at Oregon State, she has worked two part time jobs during school and three jobs over the summer to pay her rent and living expenses. “I know I want to go to graduate school and do internships that you need in the field, but I haven’t been able to do internships or other experiences because I’ve had to work so much,” Bramlett says.
The Potters’ support has helped her balance her work and studies. In fact, this year, they increased her scholarship, which has allowed Bramlett to decrease her work hours and focus more on her schoolwork. Without the scholarship, she says, “I’d be working more than I am now – it’s a burden. I’d be a lot busier, more stressed out. School is still stressful, but now I can put more energy into my schoolwork.”
Bramlett, like Welch, has found the personal connection with the Potters to be just as important as the financial support. “They have been so amazing to me. When I found out I got the scholarship, they met with me right away, and they were really comfortable people to talk to. They always want to hear about what’s going on in my life. They care about the scholarship recipients. It’s nice to get to thank them in person and tell them how much I appreciate it,” Bramlett says.
Bramlett is thankful to have the support of two people who care about her success and relate to the challenges students face. “They’re both professors – they know what it’s like to be a student, how hard it can be.” As she approaches the finish line of her honors degree and her senior thesis, she has reflected on the importance of her relationship with the Potters: “I want them to be at the (thesis) defense. They’ve had such a big impact on my education.”
The Potters say they have enjoyed getting to know Welch and Bramlett and appreciate the opportunity to give back to students. “I had support as an undergraduate that was very important to me, and I see how important it can be to others,” Sandy says.
“It’s fun to be supportive of people who are bright and motivated,” John says. “[The scholarship] helps them get through school and helps them pursue their dreams.”