Centennial Bermuda Foundation helps the students who need it the most
BY TIM SMITH
Handing out scholarships is no longer just about rewarding the top academic performers – as far as the Centennial Bermuda Foundation is concerned, it’s also a chance to help level the playing field.
For many years, Centennial – formerly the Bank of Bermuda Foundation – would hand out tens of thousands of dollars to students who, while grateful for the award, might not have needed it from a financial perspective.
Meanwhile many students from poorer families, for whom university life represented a possible transformational experience, were left on the sidelines because their grades fell just short.
That all changed in 2018, when Centennial developed its Theory of Change and shifted its grantmaking process to focus on equity and access, and financial need became the first threshold of eligibility.
Allison Towlson, the managing director of Centennial, said: “The idea that there is indeed a level playing field has proven not to be the case for all sectors of society.
“We know that individuals do not all have the same access to opportunities or even awareness of those opportunities.
“Prior to this shift we recognised that for a number of students our scholarships represented prestige, which didn’t always translate into need for that student.”
As well as scholarships for four-year degrees, Centennial offers scholarships for two-year certification courses for trades and technical vocational programme, associates degrees, postgraduate degrees, masters and doctorates.
“We are hopefully creating access for students to explore different paths to attaining qualifications and skills,” Ms Towlson said.
Centennial also offers a vocational scholarship for people aged 16 to 30 seeking to qualify in a trade or technical vocation without the need to meet a minimum GPA requirement, which had proved a barrier to applicants.
Some past recipients have gone on to study in the culinary arts, while other success stories include an electrical technician, a medical radiologist and a trichologist.
Ms Towlson said the Foundation aims to alleviate the financial burden so that students can focus on their studies and achieve their goals.
“We want to ensure the next generation of high school graduates know there are opportunities for them to attain a post-secondary education, and that it isn’t for the select few who can afford it or who are top of their class,” she said.
“Furthermore, several studies have shown that individuals that graduate from post-secondary education have a higher earning power than those that do not attend. In the long term, our hope is that we are playing a small part in enabling students to achieve greater financial independence in the future.
“We know that students are more likely to attend higher education if their parents did, and by financially supporting more first-generation attendees, especially those who don’t otherwise have the means, we hope to influence future generations of students looking to attain higher education.
“Higher education should be accessible to everyone who wants to participate. We hope our scholarships will enable Bermudians to take advantage of an opportunity to align their skills with the needs of our community – in the long term, playing a role in paving the way for a workforce of Bermudian talent, ready and able to take on varied roles in our community.
“We hope that our scholarships will be just one piece of the puzzle in closing the economic gap that exists in Bermuda.”
Students and parents have shared “overwhelming” personal stories and journeys after receiving their grants in the past three years, Ms Towlson said.
“We are humbled each year to know what this means to them. Several have taken to giving back in the community. We are always delighted when we see students succeed in their endeavours.”
She added: “We recognise that there’s an increased effort to focus on equity and access, more so now than ever. For Centennial this is not a fleeting or new initiative for us.
“To really be grounded in equity work takes a lot of self-reflection as an organisation, it takes being humble, recognising past mistakes and being willing to grow and build for the future.
“We are still very much on our own equity journey striving to improve our process and policies to ensure we stay true to our core values.
“It’s a space of constant growth as an organisation and a journey we are prepared to continue to undertake, in order to contribute to a more fair and just society.”