Laura Vinson, 20, only dreamed of attending college. Now, she’s the spokeswoman for a scholarship program that serves low-income students matriculating from high school to college or university.
“I always knew I’d have to work to go to college, or take out student loans,” she said. “So, it was kind of like a dream rather than an actual reality.”
Vinson’s father is disabled and unable to work. She also has an older sister who has been one of her biggest influences in life.
“But as far as support goes, we didn’t have anyone outside our immediate family to help,” she said.
When she applied for the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen Georgia Scholarship, or REACH, things began to change.
“I didn’t take it seriously at first,” she said, adding that her father encouraged her to apply.
Vinson was awarded a $10,000 college scholarship, which was matched by UNG for a total of $20,000, and she is on pace to receive an associate’s degree in sociology next spring.
“A lot of my worries went away,” Vinson said.
The program was launched in 2012 as part of Gov. Nathan Deal’s Complete College Georgia initiative.
Students are selected for the program as they move from middle to high school. They must maintain a 2.5 grade point average in core courses, have a clean discipline and strong attendance record, and remain free of drugs and crime. Students receive $2,500 per year for up to four years and colleges and universities can match those funds.
Now, Vinson, a 2017 graduate of Rabun County High, serves as the spokeswoman for the REACH scholars program. And she’ll be sharing her story and experience with more than 100 high school recipients at the UNG Gainesville campus on Nov. 1, the first conference of its kind.
At the conference, students will have the opportunity to explore careers by connecting with local businesses, learning about the demands and skills necessary for these jobs.
“So, to be a vessel of some sort for some of these students to learn more about the REACH scholarship and have someone to talk to, it’s definitely an eye-opener and it’s kind of the reason why I wanted to study sociology,” Vinson said.
REACH scholars conference
What: More than 100 10th- to 12th-graders will meet to explore career opportunities by connecting with area businesses
When: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday
Where: University of North Georgia, Gainesville campus