Big Accomplishments, Big Rewards

 Lilly Scholarship funds dreams for three southside students

By Jessica Dyer Campbell

Of the nearly 80 different scholarships that the Johnson County Community Foundation awards to local graduates each year, one stands out as potentially life-changing for the students who receive it: the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship. As it has for the past five years, the JCCF awarded three of these scholarships this year.

“We see some amazing applications,” says Stephanie Fox, program officer for grants and scholarships. “It’s our most difficult, because you know you are changing these students’ lives.”

Although she isn’t a voting member of the 10-person scholarship committee, Fox is involved at each step of the process, as she has been for the last 10 years. A mix of community members and board members serve on the scholarship committee that reads applications and interviews candidates. “They take it very seriously, and we have a lot of discussion about it,” Fox says. “We spend several hours discussing the applications.”

Awarded annually to fewer than 150 Indiana high school graduates across all of Indiana’s 92 counties, the scholarship covers four-year tuition and fees to any Indiana college or university for a baccalaureate degree. (It does not cover room and board.) Students also receive up to $900 for books or other required equipment.

The scholarship funds come from the Lilly Endowment and are distributed by the Independent Colleges of Indiana organization. Community foundations throughout Indiana are tasked with nominating students for the scholarship in their counties. The number of scholarships that a community foundation can award depends on the county’s population; some counties award one scholarship per year, for example.

When the Johnson County population surpassed 100,000 residents a few years ago, Fox says she was “over the moon. I thought, ‘We did it! We got another Lilly!’”

The criteria for the scholarship are determined by the individual community foundations and must be approved by the Independent Colleges of Indiana. For the JCCF committee, the key component, aside from academics, is community service.

“When the Lilly was started, a lot of our top students were going outside of Indiana for college and never coming back,” Fox says. Since its inception in 1998, the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship program’s aim is to retain top Indiana graduates and provide an incentive for them to attend any of the accredited four-year colleges and universities in Indiana.

This year, 74 students submitted applications for consideration, Fox says. The JCCF takes a fully blind judging approach to applications to prevent bias and give each student an equal chance — removing names and other identifying information so the committee members cannot determine student identities. Fox vets each application and scrubs the identifying information.

The JCCF then enlists the help of the students’ high schools to review the applications before they make it to the scholarship committee. Staff at the high schools send Fox their top three candidates, which she passes on to the committee for final review. From those applications (each is about 10 pages), the committee selects six students to interview. Of those six, only three are awarded the scholarship.

“It’s been eye-opening to us to see what has been going on in the community that our committee doesn’t have a pulse on,” Fox says of the many creative and meaningful volunteer and community service projects that students write about in their applications.

Before a board member can give the students the good news, ICI needs to approve the candidates and ensure that each meets the criteria set by their home county’s community foundation. Once the scholars leave home for their school of choice, they can join the Lilly Scholars Network, a group that connects Lilly Scholars and alumni, and provides resources as they work to be leaders in their communities. Some Lilly Scholars return to Johnson County to continue making a difference. “We are on-boarding one of our past Lilly Scholars to be a committee member,” Fox says. “It’s been fun for us to see students come back.”

Jenna Newton

Jenna Newton, Franklin High School

Becoming a Lilly Scholar is the realization of a goal Jenna Newton set for herself years ago. “In middle school I had some mentors who were Lilly Scholars,” she says. “I was holding my breath all summer and opened the application at 12:05 the night it came out.”

She’s involved with the Harvard Model Congress and the Franklin Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, where she was part of a team that raised money for an inclusive playground and for a Safe Haven baby box. “I’ve gotten so much out of my experiences in service and volunteering than I could ever repay,” she says.

Some of those experiences include helping organize a danceathon to raise $15,000 for Riley Hospital for Children, volunteering some 100 hours working at a food pantry, and helping raise $20,000 to fight human trafficking through an awareness campaign called Dressember, where she wore a dress each day in December.

The Lilly Scholarship will make it possible for Newton to attend DePauw University, a school she wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. She is considering a pre-law major.

Jenna Kelsay

Jenna Kelsay, Whiteland Community High School

At 10 years old, Jenna Kelsay’s agriculture outreach hit the mainstream when she appeared in a Disney Channel commercial giving tours of her family farm, Kelsay Farms, in Whiteland. “Agriculture has been a really important thing in my life,” she says, “and advocating for agriculture.”

As part of her outreach as a seventh-generation farmer, she’s made videos for her social media accounts (including one where her cow gives birth), taken livestock animals to a senior center and led tours of the farm for the family’s agriculture tourism business. Each summer she talks with 4-H fairgoers about her dairy cows, clearing up any misconceptions and answering questions. She is an active member in FFA and 4-H. “So many of my classmates are so removed from agriculture and knowing where their food comes from,” she says. “I have a unique perspective to bring to my community.”

In addition to her agriculture work, Kelsay is president of her local National Honor Society and is class vice president. In the fall she will attend Purdue University to study agriculture sales and marketing.

Andrew Jones

Andrew Jones, Greenwood High School

When his friend was sick with cancer in sixth grade, Andrew Jones raised awareness —and $8,000 — by selling silicone “Cooper’s Troopers” bracelets and organizing prayer meetings. “The impact it had on the community was cool because it felt like everyone had one of those bracelets,” he says. “People were becoming more aware and helping the family.”

That drive to help has continued, and today he serves on the Johnson County Youth Leadership Academy fundraising committee. He’s actively raising funds to pay for landscaping and other exterior improvements to the Johnson County Animal Shelter. A musician and math-lover, Jones is always looking to improve himself and his community, which is why he got involved with the youth leadership academy.

“I know that going into adulthood, there will be more challenges,” Jones says. “I wanted to go into that with a fully prepared tool belt and be a really effective leader.”

Jones will become a third-generation Purdue University engineering student in the fall. He hopes to work on the acoustic design of buildings. “There’s engineering in my blood,” he says.