Unbound scholars give back, get ahead

Scholarship program boosts education, job skills

Daniela, 19, is a former scholar with a certification in human resources. She now serves as an Unbound staff member in Medellin, Colombia.

The Unbound Scholarship Program gives high school and college-age students a chance to continue their educations and learn valuable skills that make them stand out in a competitive job market.

Unbound awarded 8,447 scholarships last year, and the average amount per scholarship was approximately $400. That made a big difference for students around the globe like Melody, 24, a former scholar from the Philippines who used her scholarship to complete her teaching degree.

In Unbound, being a sponsored child and a service scholar really made a significant impact in my life. [Unbound] showed me the way and opens up a wide range of opportunity right now. It gives me the chance to dream that I will be successful someday, that I can accomplish something for myself and for my family.
— Melody, former Unbound scholar from the Philippines

The scholarship program began in 1998 to help students without sponsorship support continue in school. Now, sponsored students can also apply for scholarships and make up more than half of Unbound scholars worldwide.

Unbound takes a personalized approach to distributing scholarship funds, empowering the scholars to make choices on how to best use the resources. For example, the Scholarship Program in Cartagena, Colombia, disburses funds into a personal bank account from which scholars can utilize the resources as needed.

Nurturing a commitment to service

Each local program has its own criteria for selecting scholars, but they all look for applicants who have a financial need and display a dedication to helping others and continuing their educations. A service component is vital as scholars take on leadership roles and learn other skills through volunteer work in the community.

Caitlin Gasaway, program specialist for Unbound, said the criteria are part of the reason scholars work so hard, knowing that it’s not an opportunity given to everyone.

“Every time I visit a project,” Gasaway said, “it's a guarantee that you meet scholars that are going to amaze, that are going to impress, just because of their drive and their determination and their desire to serve and work in the community.”

Equipping students with tools for success

Many scholars choose to fulfill their community service with Unbound. Depending on needs of the local office, scholars can be found doing a variety of tasks under the supervision of staff members, such as filing paperwork, tutoring younger sponsored children or helping organize mothers group meetings. They even plan events such as birthday parties or letter-writing activities. Through their service, scholars are able to observe the dynamics of an office, develop soft skills such as working in a team environment and build confidence.

The professional skills scholars develop make them stand out in competitive job markets, and some Unbound offices go even further to help scholars not just achieve their educational goals, but also their employment aspirations.

In Cartagena, scholars in their last semester attend a two-day camp focused on skills needed to land a job. In the Philippines, alumni groups help former scholars connect with peers socially while sharing job leads and best practices for the workplace.

“When you talk to scholars about their experience,” Gasaway said, “of course they’re thankful for the economic support so they can actually study, but a lot of them will talk about how they can gain these skills that otherwise they wouldn't have the opportunities to. Even just to use office equipment, or to be entrusted with executing an activity. Just being able to gain those skills and that confidence of, ‘Wow, these people trust me to do this and I can do it.’”

Former Unbound scholar Melody, 24, was selected one of the “Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines” in 2017. She now has a degree in elementary education.
Former Unbound scholar Melody, 24, was selected one of the “Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines” in 2017. She now has a degree in elementary education.