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Want to Connect to Young People? Do As They Do (Not As You’ve Always Done)


When you want to reach teenagers, don’t email — send a text message.

That’s just one of the lessons Peter Droege, vice president for communications for the Daniels Fund, has learned about using technology to stay in touch with the 250 college students from Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming that the foundation supports through college scholarships and mentoring. The Daniels Fund uses both a Facebook page, featuring pictures of Daniels Scholars and alumni, and a dedicated Web site to allow everyone to stay in touch and communicate with each other.

Not only are there “social” benefits for this kind of online networking, but the foundation also thinks  maintaining connections — in a number of ways — among program participants and their support network may be contributing to the high numbers of Daniels Scholars graduating from college (nearly 20 percent higher than national graduation rates for all students).

“Keeping in regular contact with kids in college is critical, especially during the first few weeks, when there can be some culture shock on campus,” Droege said. “Students need to be able to orient themselves to their new environment and bring forth their own gifts to that environment.”  This is especially important to this group, says Droege, because Daniels Scholars are often the first in their families to go to college.  Participants, he adds, are selected based on their “willingness to work hard, strength of character, passion to succeed in life and willingness to give back.”

The Daniels Scholars program is the largest single program of the Daniels Fund and represents one third of the fund’s annual payout. More than 1,750 Daniels Scholars have been named since the program’s inception as part of the Daniels Fund in 2000, and the Daniels Fund has awarded more than $56 million in scholarships to Daniels Scholars.

Working with community organizations, the Daniels Fund receives nominations, interviews and then selects an average of 250 Daniels Scholars each year. The Fund supplies each student with a supplemental scholarships that covers all of college expenses after their families have made the financial contribution based on federal guidelines and after they have qualified for student financial aid. (If $0, families contribute nothing). The program also provides students with a laptop and a printer.

Like others attempting to reach young people, Daniels discovered that this generation of high school and college students doesn’t necessarily see email as a primary means of communication, although Daniels initially used both email and phone calls to stay connected with scholars. That led the foundation to explore different ways to keep in touch with Scholars and enable them to connect with each other.  Much of what the Daniels Fund is doing today, Droege says was conceived or influenced by the scholars themselves.

Daniels Scholar and Daniels Fund summer intern Sally Ho created a Facebook group for scholars and alumni in the summer of 2007. Ho and fellow students Latia Shaw and Jesus Gandarilla then promoted the group, which offered news, events information and photos from events. Ho and Droege also took it upon themselves to post fresh content on a regular basis. Scholars have established class-specific groups as well, including an active group for the class of 2008 scholars.

DFScholars.org, launched in January 2009, goes beyond what Facebook offers. Applicants can download forms, and current scholars, alumni, parents and campus representatives can stay abreast of developments with the program.  Other information available on the site includes contacts information for each scholar’s campus contact, which Droege said is one of the most popular pieces of information, as students sometimes forget who it is.

The site also features information about the Daniels Fund’s benefactor, Bill Daniels, scholar success stories, and current job opportunities. Scholars and alumni can also use the site’s message boards to exchange information each other on a password-protected section of the site.

“We added this feature so scholars and alumni can connect and network with one another and share information,” Droege said.

–Emily Culbertson

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