WMU and Greenleaf Trust celebrate 2021 scholars

Contact: Molly Reed
The 2021 Greenleaf Trust scholars with President Edward Montgomery and Trustee William Johnston, founder and chair of Greenleaf Trust.

New and former Greenleaf Trust scholars from the Haworth College of Business stand with President Edward Montgomery, in front row and third from left, and Trustee William Johnston, founder and chair of Greenleaf Trust, in front row and second from right.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Since opening its doors more than 20 years ago, Greenleaf Trust has been committed to building a diverse workforce. Yet William D. Johnston, founder and chair, was discouraged to find that a small number of students from underrepresented backgrounds were graduating with degrees in finance. 

To help bridge that gap, he and his wife, Ronda Stryker, established a scholarship at Western Michigan University to help students overcome obstacles to pursuing their education in the fiduciary services industry.

Today, the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship has supported 83 Haworth College of Business students with more than $1.7 million in funds. In addition, the company has hosted dozens of rotational internships and has hired many of its scholars as full-time employees.

“What the evidence of our Greenleaf Trust scholars demonstrates is that with intentional actions, appropriate resourcing and mentorship, we can change the condition of underrepresented students and graduates of color in the financial industry,” Johnston says. “Greenleaf Trust scholars graduating from finance programs at the WMU Haworth College of Business have been recruited by and are engaged by many fortune 100 companies in finance. We are thrilled to witness the amazingly talented and successful Greenleaf Trust Scholarship students and are proud of the impact they are making not only at Greenleaf Trust but also throughout the financial industry.”

Diversifying finance

Greenleaf Trust and WMU Haworth recently celebrated their 2021 scholars—a group of 13 students with majors in accounting, finance and personal financial planning. The 2021 Greenleaf Trust Scholars are:

  • Isabel Barajas of Holland, Michigan
  • Ashley Barnes of Kentwood, Michigan
  • Ellis Bobbitt of Chicago, Illinois
  • Dennivan Brunt of Covert, Michigan
  • Sadiyah Echols of Detroit
  • Michael Graves of Southfield, Michigan
  • Jamin Mays of Detroit
  • Marvin Ramsey of Kalamazoo
  • Alex (George) Salinas of Skokie, Illinois
  • Julie Schwark of Algonac, Michigan
  • Amari Smith of Kentwood, Michigan
  • Nick Staats of Detroit
  • Keith White of Warren, Michigan

The renewable award is worth $12,400 per year and recipients are eligible for a one-year paid internship working in multiple divisions at the organization. If accepted for the internship, they gain experience in personal trust and wealth management, operations, research and retirement planning.

Amari Smith, a Greenleaf Trust intern who is majoring in finance with a minor in computer information systems, says the best part about receiving the scholarship is the relationships she has built at the company. 

“It feels amazing to simultaneously get some financial relief through the stressful times of college while also building a network of professionals with years of experience,” Smith says. “Working in an environment like Greenleaf Trust has challenged me with concepts and tasks in a real industry setting with actual clients. It has helped me gain confidence, which I think many students lack as they enter the business world. I am still working on building that, but Greenleaf Trust has made the process much easier.”

Professionals with purpose

Greenleaf Trust has also established a graduate associate program, meaning students like Smith will have the opportunity to become employees of the company. Those students go through a rigorous interview process, and some get offers for full-time positions upon earning their degree. The firm currently employs nine former scholars with plans to continue that pipeline well into the future. 

“Knowing that a company truly cares about their scholars and the program as a whole is what sticks out the most to me,” says Victor Perez, a former Greenleaf Trust scholar and current employee. “Greenleaf Trust opened their doors to me and from there the opportunity was mine to learn from and grow. It allowed me to translate what I had learned from the classroom into the real world both as an intern and now as an employee. Beyond this, it has provided me with a strong sense of community and togetherness here at Greenleaf Trust and within the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship Program.”

Regardless of where students end up in their careers, Smith says the experience of being a Greenleaf Trust scholar has prepared her for any journey she chooses.

“Greenleaf Trust has ensured that no matter where I go in life or which career I pursue, I will always have a strong network of professionals and other scholars to rely on,” she says. “It is my hope that through the continuation of the company’s partnership with WMU, the financial field becomes more diverse and students of color are shown that there are no limits to life after college.”  

Visit the company’s website to learn more about the scholarship and to apply.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit WMU News online.