Lighting the Torch for Future Students
From the Brickyard to the boardroom, the women of the Mu Omicron chapter of Delta Sigma Theta — the first Black Greek-letter sorority at NC State — have established a legacy as trailblazers over the course of the group’s 45-year history.
Their leadership is an extension of the national organization’s values of sisterhood, scholarship and service. Commitment to these principles — and their shared love for NC State — has kept five members of the sorority, in particular, connected with one another and Delta Sigma Theta since they each were initiated into the organization of over 200,000 members more than a decade ago.
Now, these five women are demonstrating their commitment and collective presence in a new way.
LaTricia Frederick ’99, Keyana Scales ’00, Tamara Grisard ’03, Faith Leach ’05 and Casey Adams Jones ’07 recently established the Financial Fortitude Endowment, a need-based scholarship for NC State students who meet at least one of these criteria: an interest in working with the Black community, a demonstrated commitment to social justice, experience living or working in a diverse environment or being the first in their family to attend college.
Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service in Action
The group’s goals for the fund are rooted in Delta Sigma Theta’s history of social justice and providing opportunities for those who are too often left behind. The organization, whose overall membership has included women like Shirley Chisholm and Barbara Jordan, has been on the front lines for social justice, including marching with suffragists, since its founding in 1913.
“For far too long, Black and female lives have been the most undervalued and unprotected,” said Adams Jones, who is serving as a spokesperson for the quintet along with Frederick. “This scholarship makes a statement about our commitment to helping combat this reality for our community.”
Frederick, Scales, Grisard, Leach and Adams Jones chose to establish the scholarship this year in honor of the Mu Omicron chapter founding 45 years ago, on Oct. 25, 1975. Their goal is to endow it by giving $50,000 in total by the 50th anniversary in 2025.
The Financial Fortitude Endowment takes its name from an element of Delta Sigma Theta’s Five-Point Programmatic Thrust of economic development, educational development, international awareness and involvement, political awareness and involvement, and physical and mental health.
“Financial Fortitude is a means for us to help empower and enable future leaders from diverse groups to pursue their dreams and aspirations by providing the monetary support that’s needed to obtain a college education, yet often unavailable,” Frederick said.
The scholarship will be awarded to TRIO-eligible students, including first-years, and administered by NC State’s TRIO programs, which are federal programs that help students overcome class, social and cultural barriers to education.
“Not only will the Financial Fortitude Endowment impact TRIO-eligible students we serve here at the university but this endowment will impact their families by decreasing the financial strain paying for college may cause,” said Courtney Simpson, senior director of Student Support Services for NC State’s TRIO programs.
“It impacts their communities by illustrating the ways we give back to elevate the lives of others through education. And it impacts our university by enrolling students from diverse socioeconomic and class backgrounds that will enhance the educational experience for their peers and university administrators,” she added. “When we are able to decrease the financial barriers that may prohibit students from enrolling, we are investing in the future of our students that will carry out the mission of this university.”
‘Pouring Back’ Into NC State
The group views their support as a way to give back to NC State “a fraction” of what was given to them. Each woman has achieved success in her chosen career field: Adams Jones is the communications director at the American Heart Association, Frederick is the senior organizational effectiveness consultant at Cisco Systems, Grisard is the senior director for Regulatory Affairs at Elanco, Leach is vice president and chief of staff at the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, and Scales is the vice president for enrollment management at Xavier University of Louisiana.
“I tell anyone and everyone, NC State was among the best four consecutive years of my life, from the spirit of athletics to how the school empowers you to be a leader. There’s diversity, the ability of the campus to create a community for historically excluded students, as well as an open space that’s inclusive,” Adams Jones said.
Her experience began before she enrolled, with a Pack Preview Minority Recruitment Reception. The opportunity to discuss professional development and academic experiences as they related to being a Black student at a predominantly white institution were pivotal to Adams Jones’ path to NC State.
Frederick’s connection to the university also extends back to her pre-student days. She attended a summer engineering camp, and even though she ultimately pursued a different major, engineering has anchored her career path. “NC State created this space where I could connect with people who were like me and who weren’t like me. I had this really rich opportunity to develop skills that have enhanced my career,” she said.
The passion and gratitude Frederick and Adams Jones have for their NC State experiences are reasons why they give back — and why they hope the university will take the group’s gift as a charge to invest more in recruiting and retaining Black students.
“I’m disappointed that some of the programming that was instrumental in my matriculation and retention no longer exists,” Adams Jones said. “My hopes are that the university will gain momentum from more donors belonging to communities of color and in turn, focus funds on increasing programming.”
Connected by Giving Back
Working together has allowed the group to make a greater impact than they could individually.
“Making a substantial investment is attainable and customizable,” Adams Jones said. “It can be a collaborative effort, and your total contribution isn’t required on day one.” She would like to see this endowment inspire both potential donors and the university to look for creative ways to partner, especially among the younger demographic.
The group also hopes that other donors will join them by considering how to support underrepresented students through their own philanthropy, including by giving to the Financial Fortitude Endowment.
Frederick knows firsthand how one donor might inspire another. Current Board of Trustees member Wendell Murphy is from the same small Duplin County community she is, though the two have never met.
“When anyone talks about NC State in Duplin County, we think often about Mr. Murphy. One of the things I admire about him and what he’s done for the university is being a pillar of the community and giving back. One of the things that makes me want to give back is knowing that people like him have done that for years,” she said.
Shining a Light
In addition to providing student beneficiaries with a path to successfully matriculate through NC State and inspiring them to eventually pay it forward, Frederick and Adams Jones also view the scholarship as a way to help combat the perceived issue of a limited pool of diverse talent.
“There are numerous members of Black and other diverse communities with extraordinary talent who have wits and intelligence that are hard to beat,” Frederick said. “One of the things that’s missing is the opportunity to compete. Our fund will help students attain the required credentials, but we need organizations to extend the opportunity.”
Delta Sigma Theta’s public motto is, “Intelligence is the Torch of Wisdom.” Through their advocacy and generosity, these five women continue to demonstrate their commitment to NC State and their greater sorority community by keeping the flame lit for the future.
This post was originally published in Giving News.