Jackson, Mississippi – When Michelle Machado Davis was growing up in Brazil, she had to walk several miles to and from school every day – often in shoes that didn’t fit, either too small or stuffed with tissues so that she could grow into them.
But today, Davis has shoes that fit just fine; and as the first David R. Pierce Scholar, she’s become a quickly rising star in the community college universe. For her, it’s not about the $1,000 Pierce Scholarship she received in addition to the scholarships of $2,500 as a member of the All-USA Community College Academic Team and $2,000 as Texas’s New Century Scholar. It’s about feeling comfortable in her own shoes in more ways than one; ready to walk ahead into the better life she’s built for herself and her family.
And now the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) has kicked off the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation’s campaign to raise funds for the David R. Pierce Scholarship with a gift of $10,000 to make sure that more students like Davis get the recognition they deserve and the scholarships they need to succeed.
In April, the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation announced that the Society would honor the memory of former AACC President and Phi Theta Kappa Board Vice Chair Dr. David R. Pierce with the establishment of a scholarship in his name. The $1,000 scholarship will be presented annually to the student chosen to represent the All-USA Community College Academic Team by speaking during the Closing Plenary Brunch at the AACC annual convention.
“We wanted to do something in memory of David, and the extraordinary leadership he provided to AACC, and the exceptional man that he was,” said Dr. Walter Bumphus, President and CEO of AACC. “Recognizing how important Phi Theta Kappa was to David and the great value he and his family placed on community college students, we thought it only fitting that we make a contribution to the inaugural Pierce Scholarship in his name.”
Pierce served as president of AACC from 1991-2000 and as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Board of Directors for 11 years, serving as Vice Chair from 2001-2003. He provided extraordinary leadership to both organizations and was respected by his peers.
Upon his death in early 2014, the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation wanted to establish a scholarship in his memory with the donations received in his honor. Maureen Pierce, his wife, and his family requested that the scholarship be awarded to a community college student.
In 1991, Phi Theta Kappa introduced the inaugural All-USA Community College Team at AACC during the Society’s Presidents Breakfast. Pierce, then president of AACC, requested that Phi Theta Kappa continue to recognize the All-USA Team annually at AACC.
“It is fitting that the David R. Pierce Scholarship be presented to the scholar selected each year from the All-USA Community College Academic Team to represent and speak on behalf of the scholars at AACC’s Annual Convention,” said Dr. Nancy Rieves, CEO of the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation. “As a former president of AACC, it seems appropriate to remember Dr. Pierce among his peers and the scholars of the nation’s community colleges.”
The All-USA program is widely recognized as the most prestigious academic honor for students attending community college. Nominees are hand-selected by college presidents or their designated nominator for demonstrating academic rigor, leadership and civic growth. The program also recognizes students who extend their community college education to better themselves, their schools and their surrounding communities. A student does not have to be a member of Phi Theta Kappa to be selected.
The first David R. Pierce Scholarship was awarded to Michelle Davis during the 2014 AACC Annual Convention on April 8 in Washington, D.C. A business major at Collin College in Texas, Davis hopes to earn a baccalaureate degree and become a tax accountant.
At the AACC Convention, Davis told her story of emerging from a childhood of poverty in Brazil, overcoming a language barrier and many other obstacles to earn a 4.0 grade point average. She persevered to complete her associate degree even as she miscarried, her husband was diagnosed with cancer and the family struggled with medical bills due to lack of health insurance.
“Determination, unwavering hope, persistence and a powerful support system sustained me when I encountered difficulties in my journey through school,” Davis said. “Instead of focusing on problems at hand, I focused on end results.
“Sleepless nights did not keep me from going to school the following mornings. I still studied for tests while tears rolled down my eyes. In the midst of storms, I learned precious lessons about resilience and the importance of having a support system around me.”
Davis said Phi Theta Kappa has been a crucial support system to her and the highlight of her educational journey; that being a member taught her the value of giving back to her community.
Rieves said the Foundation is extremely grateful for the gift from AACC, as they are actively seeking donations to provide future scholarships to students like Davis – particularly from college presidents and administrators – to fund the David R. Pierce Scholarship.
“Dr. Pierce would have been so proud to hear Michelle’s story and the role we played in it,” she said. “A gift to this scholarship fund is also a wonderful way to remember a truly great community college leader.”
Rieves said donations for the Pierce Scholarship are starting to roll in from presidents and administrators around the country who remember Pierce fondly and want to show their support for scholarships that benefit outstanding community college students.
For more information on how to contribute to the David R. Pierce Scholarship fund or other scholarships for Phi Theta Kappa members through the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation, contact Philanthropy Coordinator Karri Chaney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 601.987.5507, or give online at the Foundation’s secure website. To give by mail, make checks payable to Phi Theta Kappa Foundation and mail to the Center for Excellence, 1625 Eastover Drive, Jackson, MS 39211.
The 2014 All-USA Community College Academic Team is sponsored by Follett Higher Education Group and presented by USA TODAY. Additional support is provided by Phi Theta Kappa and the American Association of Community Colleges. Each team member received a $2,500 scholarship, furnished by Follett Higher Education Group, and was featured in USA TODAY newspaper.
The Phi Theta Kappa Foundation is focused on long-term financial stability for Phi Theta Kappa. It is dependent upon the generosity of individuals, organizations, foundations and corporations to ensure its future through the support of existing and the establishment of new endowment funds.
Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, headquartered in Jackson, Mississippi, is the largest honor society in higher education with 1,285 chapters on college campuses in all 50 of the United States, plus Canada, Germany, the Republic of Palau, Peru, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the British Virgin Islands, the United Arab Emirates and U.S. territorial possessions. Nearly 3 million students have been inducted since its founding in 1918, with approximately 131,000 students inducted annually.