In 2008, Vanderbilt University joined a growing number of institutions that have committed themselves to rewriting the rules on college access and affordability. By replacing student loans with expanded scholarships and grants, the university made the bold statement that a Vanderbilt education was available to every qualified undergraduate student, regardless of their family’s financial circumstances.
Dubbed Opportunity Vanderbilt, this equalizing financial aid program has distributed nearly $1.5 billion in undergraduate aid to more than 12,500 students.
Among them are 20 recipients of The Annexstad Family Foundation’s Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarship. At Vanderbilt, the Scholarship is awarded annually to two incoming first-year students who successfully triumphed over significant personal or family hardships, such as the loss of a parent, foster care placement, a physical disability or severe poverty.
Because of its commitment to meeting 100% of students’ demonstrated financial need, Vanderbilt was one of the first universities selected by The Annexstad Family Foundation to offer the Leaders for Tomorrow Scholarship, becoming a key partner in 2012, the first year Scholarships were awarded.
Kay Shao, a Vanderbilt student from California, is a current Leaders for Tomorrow Scholar, studying Human and Organizational Development and Creative Writing. The daughter of Chinese immigrants who work long hours to keep their family afloat, Shao credits the Scholarship for transforming her college experience – both for her and for her parents.
“Without this Scholarship, my college experience would be dramatically different and I would not be where I am academically and professionally,” she says. “Thank you for your generosity and commitment to my education.” Instead of having to work long hours or multiple jobs, Shao has the flexibility to meet regularly with her honors program adviser, serve as philanthropic chair for Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity and even moonlight as a casting director for a Nashville-based fashion magazine.
Recipients of the Scholarship have graduated from Vanderbilt and gone on to careers in conservation, social justice and medicine.
Zackary Brown was one of Vanderbilt’s first Leaders for Tomorrow Scholars, graduating in 2016 with a double major in Neuroscience and Medicine / Health and Society with a concentration in Race, Health and Inequality. After graduating from Howard University College of Medicine, he is now a resident in pediatric medicine at Mount Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital in New York.
“As the first in my family to graduate from high school, I owe tremendous gratitude to the Leaders for Tomorrow Program,” he says. “They allowed me the opportunity to break a generational cycle and build my own cycle of success. You gave me peace of mind knowing that I didn’t have to worry financially along with giving me a peer group to show me what true Leaders For Tomorrow look like.”
In its 15-year history – 10 that have included Leaders for Tomorrows Scholars – Opportunity Vanderbilt has transformed the university through its academic rankings and student diversity. Since 2012, the university has doubled its applicant pool and the diversity of its first-year class.
“What I love about the Scholarship is that it honors the recipients’ stories, their journeys, their accomplishments and their determination,” says Chanell Thomas, Associate Director of Student Financial Aid and Scholarship. “The more diversity of perspectives we can invite onto campus, the more enriching the experience for everyone. It’s not just the Scholars who benefit from the Foundation’s kindred mission and charitable support, the entire community is better for it.”