When William D. Johnston, chairman of Greenleaf Trust, started his company more than two decades ago, he had his sights set on building a diverse workforce. He was discouraged, however, to find that a small number of students from underrepresented backgrounds were graduating with degrees in finance. To help bridge that gap, Johnston and his wife, Ronda Stryker, established a scholarship that would help dozens of Western Michigan University students overcome obstacles to pursuing their education in finance.
Now, 20 years later, the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship has supported an outstanding 71 scholars from the Haworth College of Business by awarding $1.3 million in funds and hosting 23 rotational internships. The scholarship awards business students studying finance or personal financial planning. It is open to all students in both majors but is geared toward students in underrepresented ethnic groups.
“Twenty years ago as we sought talent for our growing wealth management and fiduciary services company, we witnessed firsthand the lack of diverse candidates for employment opportunities,” Johnston says. “This lack of diversity was intolerable to Greenleaf Trust. As a result, we started the Greenleaf Trust scholars and internship program. We are proud of our program and the Greenleaf Trust team that recruits, selects and mentors our scholars. Most of all, we are proud of our scholars’ academic achievements and graduation rates. We remain committed to the Greenleaf Trust scholars program and look forward to many more decades of increasing the number of students from diverse backgrounds in the financial industry.”
Evidence shows that students who have matriculated through the program are employed at premiere financial services companies all over the country. “We have had an opportunity this year to go back to our data and connect with many of the students who received the scholarship over the past 20 years,” says Kim Dudley, senior human resources specialist at Greenleaf Trust. “The majority of them are working in the financial field, which indicates that the scholarship is doing what was intended.”
Dudley adds that the students selected for the scholarship are among the brightest and most driven at Western Michigan University; however, the barriers they face to pursuing an education in finance are often circumstantial. “Many of them are first-generation college students who have no prior exposure to the financial industry,” she says. “They haven’t had a parent or relative working in the field, so it’s not necessarily their go-to when determining a major.”
Applying for and receiving the scholarship gives students the opportunity to meet with professionals at Greenleaf Trust, to pursue an internship at the company, and to get an in-depth look at careers in finance.
“The scholarship is renewable for up to four years, so some students come in as juniors and some start as early as their first year,” Dudley says. “The staff members at Greenleaf Trust get to know each one of them; the students attend meetings, connect with mentors and really get a chance to grow as scholars.”
Some students, primarily juniors and seniors, have the opportunity to participate in an internship with the company that rotates through four divisions: personal trust/wealth management, operations, research and retirement planning. Recently, Greenleaf Trust established a graduate associate program that allows students to work with the company after they graduate.
“The scholarship was originally intended as a gift to the financial industry by preparing a diverse group of students for careers in finance,” Dudley says. “Greenleaf Trust was simply too small when it started to hire all of its scholars, but now we are large enough to provide a graduate associate program. Those students go through a rigorous interview process, and some get offers for full-time positions with the company.”
Marisol Quiroz is one such student who has the opportunity to work as a graduate associate with Greenleaf Trust. A senior majoring in accountancy and finance, Quiroz describes the Greenleaf Trust staff as family. “When I first learned that I had received the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship, I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “The first thing I did was call my family in Texas to let them know the good news. Receiving this scholarship has meant a lot more than just financial support. I am an extremely family-oriented person, and being in a migrant family, my parents are not usually in Michigan during the fall and spring semesters. Having this relationship with Greenleaf Trust throughout my undergraduate journey has provided me with a family I can rely on for support.”
Quiroz, who plans to pursue her Master of Science in Accountancy at WMU, is specializing in wealth management as a graduate associate at the company. “I am extremely grateful for the opportunities I have had throughout my life,” she says. “Thankful for my parents, Greenleaf Trust and WMU for helping me grow to be the person I am today.”
Victor Perez, a junior majoring in finance with a minor in accountancy, is a Greenleaf Trust scholar and intern who says the scholarship means much more than its monetary value. “The scholarship is meant to encourage diversity in finance, but it does so much more than that,” he says. “It shows students that there is a phenomenal company in Greenleaf Trust that believes in us and wants us to succeed.”
Perez adds that the scholarship has gone beyond lifting the financial burden of paying for college and has helped him in a variety of ways. “Greenleaf Trust makes sure to grow their scholars not only professionally, but personally as well,” he says. “Being around a group of students who share the same interests and come from similar backgrounds is very comforting and lets me know I am not alone in my pursuit of higher education in the finance industry.”
2019 Greenleaf Trust scholarship recipients
- Chris Bailey
- LaTeqa Mack
- Keenan Moore
- Ebenezer Musookho
- Victor Perez
- Marisol Quiroz
- Gerardo Ramos
- Spencer Robertson
- Julie Schwark
- Eddie Warr