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REACH helps two UNG students realize their dream of a college degree

October 3, 2017

This fall, two University of North Georgia (UNG) students have realized their dream of graduating college is now within their reach, thanks to a state scholarship program for underserved students.

The REACH (Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen) Georgia Scholarship program was launched in 2012 as a part of Gov. Nathan Deal's "Complete College Georgia" initiative. REACH is Georgia's first public-private, needs-based scholarship program, created to provide promising students from low income households with the academic, social, and financial support needed to graduate from high school and college.

Students for the program are selected as they progress from middle school to high school. To be eligible for a REACH scholarship, students must have a strong attendance record, maintain a 2.5 GPA in core courses, have a clean discipline record and remain drug and crime free. Students receive a $10,000 scholarship ($2,500 per year for up to four years) to be used for the cost of attending college. Participating colleges and universities can match those funds up to 100 percent.

Laura Vinson, 19, is from Clayton, Georgia and is majoring in early childhood education on the Dahlonega Campus. She first heard about REACH as a seventh-grader at Rabun County Middle School. Vinson was one of only three students in her class to be selected for a REACH scholarship. She needed all the help she could get.

Vinson's mother passed away suddenly when she was a child. Later on, her father later lost his business, fell ill and went bankrupt. There was little money for basic expenses, much less attending college.

"I was told multiple times at a young age that I did not have a great chance of going to college unless I worked hard in and out of school to earn scholarships and financial aid to help me," Vinson said. "When I was honored with the REACH scholarship, my outlook changed tremendously. I had something to motivate me. I had hope."

Along the way, she also became the face of the REACH program.

Vinson was invited to introduce Gov. Deal at her school for a presentation for other potential REACH students. Deal was so impressed with her poise and maturity that he began taking her to other functions as the de facto spokesperson for the program. He was even present at her high school graduation.

"Not only did this program open my mind about going to college, but it taught me who I was and what I was capable of doing," Vinson said. "It broadened my horizons and helped me be an example for others in a similar situation."

Growing up in Rabun Gap, Georgia, Katie Watson had dreams of what she wanted to be when she grew up—first, a teacher, then a veterinarian. Money, Watson said, was an issue—her family had very little of it.

Still, she was a good student, with excellent grades and attendance. Watson applied for a REACH scholarship in seventh grade at Rabun County Middle School. She was the second of the three scholarship recipients.

Watson, 18, is attending classes on the Gainesville Campus, majoring in sports medicine. She decided on that career path after working with an athletic trainer at her high school.

"I really admired how he handled himself and the way he treated all the athletes," Watson said. "He was really friendly and personable. He let me practice wrapping the athlete's wrists and ankles, and really enjoyed it."

Watson chose UNG because she heard a lot of good things about it from her friends and her research of state universities.

"It's really lived up to my expectations," she said. "It's a great campus and the teachers and students here are very friendly and helpful."

As for classes, Watson admits to feeling "a little overwhelmed." She said it's three times the workload compared to high school and the courses are more in-depth and comprehensive. But those struggles are nothing compared what it took her to get here.

"I'm using that as motivation, to make sure I finish and get my degree," Watson said.

"We are proud to have Ms. Laura Vinson and Ms. Katie Watson attending UNG as REACH scholarship recipients, said Dr. Tom Ormond, provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. "Based on the competitive nature of the REACH scholarship and the education successes both recipients have enjoyed to date, we are very hopeful they will achieve their academic dreams while at UNG."

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