A Dream ConferredBy Aaron Lazenby
The United Negro College Fund makes college education a reality for many aspiring students.
Community activists, corporate donors, and United Negro College Fund (UNCF) staff and friends gathered in San Francisco in February 2008 for the 19th Annual Frederick D. Patterson Awards Gala. Attendees were on hand to celebrate the UNCF's good work in the San Francisco Bay Area, to recognize community leaders' contributions to the African-American community, and to present the Corporation of the Year Award to Oracle.
The UNCF is the nation's oldest and most successful organization devoted to closing the educational attainment gap in the United States. Since 1944, the UNCF has raised US$2.5 billion to support its 39 member institutions and has helped more than 300,000 students earn undergraduate and graduate degrees. Over the course of a decade, Oracle has contributed more than US$11 million to support the UNCF's missionthrough cash grants, software donations, and mentorship programs.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 18.5 percent of African-Americans complete four or more years of collegewhile the national average is 28.7 percent. According to Shirley Matthews, area development director for the UNCF in San Francisco, many UNCF financial aid recipients are from families that earn less than US$30,000 a yearmany from single-parent homes where they are likely to be the first to attend college.
"These are kids who have potential but have not had the academic exposure or the finances to continue their education," says Matthews. "The cost of education is increasing, and some people have a budget where it just doesn't work. If they can't get scholarships, they can't continue their education."
The relationship between the UNCF and Oracle began when Oracle CEO Larry Ellison approved a US$350,000 in-kind software donation to help the UNCF upgrade its internal systemsa donation that helped the UNCF address some of its nonstudent stakeholders. "Donors expect things from us too: quick responses to requests, regular reports of expenses, feedback from the recipients," says Matthews. "But like most nonprofits, we don't have a huge staff. So having the software to help us do the things we want to do is a service to both our students and our donors."
Oracle went on to contribute US$9.8 million in software and training to the UNCF's Technical Enhancement Capital Campaign to improve the state of computers and other technical equipment in member schools, such as Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2001, Oracle and the UNCF created the Oracle Scholars Program to give financial aid to students with an interest and aptitude in technology, science, engineering, and mathematicsas well as allow them to work on the Oracle campus during the summer. "The students love it," says Matthews. "They learn what the work world is like and get invaluable mentorship and advice from Oracle employees."
Through an annual Oracle Community Impact Grant, the UNCF has also established a scholarship program that serves poor African-American communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Students are selected based on need and academic performance to receive a US$7,000 scholarship. One recipient, San Francisco's Jonique Green, illustrated the importance of these programs in a written report to the UNCF.
Returning home from Fisk University on the sad occasion of her uncle's death, Green found a surprisingly uplifting welcome in the form of a life-changing conversation with her cousin Joseph.
"He looked right into my eyes and told me they were all rooting for me," Jonique recalls, noting that she'll be only the second member of her family to earn a college degree. "After that day, college and postcollege education has been the most prominent thought in my mind. When he said that, I realized that graduating from Fisk University is much bigger than me."
Jane Robertson, senior director of Oracle Diversity, says that the work of the UNCF intersects perfectly with the company's commitment to both education and a diverse workplaceand she could not be happier with the results. "Every year I'm asked if there is another organization I'd like to work with," says Robertson. "And every year I say no. The UNCF is the best at what they do."
Aaron Lazenby is a director with Oracle Publishing.