Scholarships Turn Exceptional Students into Wildcats


Some kids grow up with families, teachers and friends who consistently talk about what happens after high school. They might talk to them about their alma maters, the many experiences they can have during college and potential career paths following graduation. For some kids, though, it takes something special inside of them to make the dream of college a reality.

Ryan Leak '17 of Laurinburg, N.C., has that something special, and when matched with financial support from Davidson, he was able to pursue the college career he imagined as a child. His story is one that inspires those with similar stories-young people from underprivileged backgrounds for whom attending college is not a financial possibility.

"If you want something out of life, you have to put in lots of work," he said. "You have to be willing to work harder than everyone else. You just have to take a leap of faith."

Leak's optimism and drive led him to be both the first in his family to go to college, and one of few of his high school classmates to take the liberal arts route. He embraces this desire to be different and is willing to take roads less traveled.

The contribution he could make to the diversity of thought on campus is part of what made him choose Davidson over other schools that were vying to recruit the star defensive back. As for the other schools, "they were okay," Leak said, "but when I visited Davidson, I fell in love. It was important to me to be with classmates with diverse, well-rounded academic and social experiences in a close-knit community."

"Coach Nichols [of Davidson Football] says that Davidson isn't a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision," continued Leak, who is the current recipient of the Craig Family and Crutchfield Family Scholarships. "You have to consider yourself and your education as an investment."

Scholarships make a world of difference for many exceptional students who decide Davidson is the best fit for their educational goals, and another example is the first recipient of the Graeme Wearn and Rebecca Carr Henderson Scholarship, Natalie Skowlund '18 of Oswego, Ore. The Hendersons don't look at their support as "giving back," but rather giving to students who could use some assistance.

"I really wanted to attend a small liberal arts college, and I knew I would have to receive a significant amount of financial aid even to consider it," Natalie said. "Thus, when I found out about Davidson and its strong financial aid program, I knew I wanted to apply because it also encompassed everything else I had been hoping for: a value-driven community supported by the Honor Code, a small student body and, hopefully, the resources to help me afford to attend.

"In the end, it was actually more affordable to attend Davidson College than my own state university, the University of Oregon," she continued. "It felt unreal for a while because I had never really believed a liberal arts education would be financially feasible for me. And now that I'm here at Davidson, I can't stop pinching myself as I realize how incredibly lucky I am to have been given this opportunity."


Game-Changing Investments

The college's Game Changers: Inspiring Leaders to Transform the World campaign, which launched in November 2014, aims to create more Davidson experiences for the world's best and brightest students. Half of the $425 million campaign goal is dedicated to raising dollars for scholarships in order to support the college's commitment to educational excellence and access.

John McCartney, campaign co-chair, recently committed $3.6 million to the Charles Scholarship Program, bringing his campaign giving total to more than $10 million. This comprehensive scholarship program recognizes outstanding, multicultural students from Chicago Public Schools and is offered to at least two students in each entering class. The scholarship, which has supported 27 students to date, provides funding for tuition, fees, room and board, books, travel, personal expenses and special study opportunities.

"Being a first-generation college student with a family that didn't comprehend the importance of going away to school came with its challenges," said Claudia Ramirez '11. "As a recent graduate, I am able to appreciate the rigorous and magnificent education provided at Davidson, an opportunity that would not have been possible without the Charles Scholarship. As a result, I not only have an education, but I am also an example among the Latino community."


Learn more about McCartney and the Charles Scholarship by reading the full gift announcement.


Read about Davidson game changers, learn more about the priorities of the campaign and recommend a game changer via the campaign website.


  • March 13, 2015