By Molly Williamson
As a child, Dalton Dowdle was fascinated with space exploration and dreamed of working for NASA. Now, thanks to Meade County Bank, his goal is within reach.
In the fall of 2018, Dowdle was one of seven students who received a First Breckinridge Bancshares LEADS Scholarship to fund his freshman year at the University of Kentucky. The scholarships are a new initiative by First Breckinridge, a banking holding company that owns seven community banks – including Meade County Bank – with 28 locations throughout Kentucky. For the 2018-19 academic year, the banks created scholarships through the UK Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success (LEADS) initiative, each supporting a student from their respective communities. The banks will provide these one-time scholarships for the next three years.
“As a UK alumnus, I know the value of a UK education,” said Blake Willoughby, president and chairman of First Breckinridge Bancshares. “My bachelor’s and master’s degrees prepared me for the challenges of leading and growing our banking company. I wanted all Kentucky students to have the opportunity I had to access an outstanding education and to achieve their dreams.”
Dowdle was thrilled when he learned about the scholarship. A mechanical engineering major who plans to earn an aerospace certificate, he already juggles a difficult course load with outside activities, including participating in the UK chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the UK Robotics Mining Team, where he helps to construct a robot that competes in an annual competition.
“I came to UK, because it had one of the best engineering programs,” Dowdle said. “The College of Engineering has a lot of connections to help me get internships and co-ops so that I will be more marketable and presentable to companies hiring after graduation."
As a first generation college student, Dowdle and his family were determined to make college possible for the bright engineer. They took out several loans, and Dowdle received UK grants and scholarships, but he still had a balance.
“Growing up, my family was not the best financially, so I always worked hard to earn scholarships so that I could go to college,” Dowdle said. “We did not want to take out too many loans, because we knew I would be paying them off for the rest of my life. Receiving this scholarship is amazing. I am so appreciative, because it helps me stay on the road to graduation."
LEADS – Leveraging Economic Affordability for Developing Success – was created for students like Dowdle. In 2016, UK noticed that students who had more than $5,000 in unmet need were less likely to return to campus in the fall, regardless of their academic performance, said Todd Brann, director of analytics and assessment, academic excellence at UK.
Unmet need is the remaining balance on a student’s account after all federal and school assistance is applied, scholarships are awarded and the student pays the recommended family contribution as determined by the FAFSA. LEADS reduces students’ unmet need to $5,000 or less.
“We were essentially targeting students for whom finances were their only barrier to success,” Brann said.
The UK Office of Academic Scholarships selects the students based on a complex formula that accounts for students’ financial need as well as academic merit. Though the banks provide funding for the scholarships, they do not participate in their selection and are unaware of the recipients until after the scholarships are awarded.
Dowdle and his fellow First Breckinridge Bancshares LEADS recipients met their donors in April. It allowed the bank presidents to see who they were supporting and gave Dalton the opportunity to thank Meade County Bank President Allison Willoughby for her generosity.
“As small town banks, we are intrinsically linked to the people we serve,” said Allison Willoughby, president of Meade Bancorp, which owns Meade County Bank. “We want to be there for the big moments in their lives, and we know that funding college is becoming increasingly more difficult for many families in our communities. We want to help in any way we can.
“These students are our future,” Allison Willoughby said. “They have the power to improve the Commonwealth and the world. We want to equip them with the knowledge and tools to pursue their dreams, so they can inspire other students and hopefully return to strengthen our communities.”