The Starfish Scholarship Program awards $128,000 in college grants to Uplift Williams scholars

Uplift Education College Signing Day
Uplift Education College Signing Day

The Williams Family Foundation, founded by Todd and Abby Williams, has awarded scholarships totaling $128,000 to 18 Uplift Williams Preparatory seniors from the Class of 2014 to help them defray the costs of college.

Since 2003, the Foundation’s initiative, the Starfish Scholarship Program, has helped support 148 Dallas-area students from Dallas ISD and Uplift Education schools through $875,000 in scholarships.

The Williams know what a challenge it can be for students with few means and little support to persist through college. Todd and Abby both had the benefit of being raised by strong women who continually pushed their expectation of college graduation. Both of their mothers always stressed that if they worked hard enough in pursuit of their goals the financial aid would be there.

“Our program is much more than trying to meet the financial need. Our goal is to help each one of our scholars get through college. We want them to feel supported and have someone to talk to when they run into issues,” Abby said.

For Uplift CEO Yasmin Bhatia, getting accepted to college is not a big enough goal.  Whether they complete their degrees is a much better measure of success.  She is grateful for the Williams Family Foundation’s commitment.

“The long-term impact Todd, Abby, and Mary Louise are having on North Texas scholars is significant. Their work with us and other schools in the region show how everyone can get involved with supporting our scholars. We are so thankful they are walking with us to improve college completion rates, which we want to see in the 70% range in the next few years,” she said.

Today, Abby’s mother, Mary Louise Ludt, stays similarly engaged with the scholarship recipients as she did with her own children, tracking the students through their college experience.  Mary Louise is a native Texan and a fluent Spanish speaker, a skill she routinely brings to bear as she works with students and their parents.

“I see the potential in these students. If they don’t have someone believe in them, they can easily get discouraged. Sometimes they need someone to show them how if they can sacrifice a little longer, they will be able to do so much more to help themselves and their families. It’s something I continually explain to them and their parents,” she said.

Uplift Williams seniors Cecilia Garza and Suzy Briones both won Starfish awards this year. They are highly motivated students who are interested in medicine. Throughout the interview process, they found eager ears in Abby and Mary Louise, who base their awards on need and the grit they see in each student.

Cecilia, who will be pursuing a degree in biochemistry, was struck by the way the two listened to her story.

“They got to know me as a person, and that really stands out to me. I feel like I’m being truly recognized for my achievements. With their help, I can attend Mount Holyoke College (in Massachusetts) without being a burden on my parents, and I’m really grateful for that,” she said.

If the Foundation’s goal is to encourage the students, they are succeeding with Suzy, who will be attending Carlton College in Minnesota. Already equipped with vision, Suzy needed someone to tell her she could do it. Mary Louise’s support makes her want to drive forward and be successful.

“The Starfish Scholarship means that the Williams Family Foundation believes in me and that they really invested in my future. It has become another motivation for me to keep working harder and do better. I want to study microbiology in college and eventually, I’d like to get into medicine. The scholarship will not only keep me motivated but also helps me financially. It’s that much easier on my family because we don’t have extra money to pay for everything in college,” Suzy said.

“We visit with our students all the time. They have to report back to us on how they are doing. Some of it involves the scholarship–we will sometimes adjust the award both up and down based on performance—but mostly it’s about letting them know we are interested and available to support them.  We know if they feel they can be successful, they typically will,” Mary Louise explained.

Together the three work to build personal relationships with the students, not just administer the program and track the students’ academic records.  They meet for mentoring lunches, help identify internships for the students, and counsel parents struggling to see their children move away.  It would not be uncommon to see the Williams load up the car on move-in day and help students get set up in their dorm rooms, navigate class registration or find their way around a new town.

As Mary Louise so well surmised, “If persistence is the goal, you have to walk with each scholar hand in hand every step of the way.”

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