A planned gift from a University of Georgia alumni couple will help first-generation college students become educators.
Created by Johnny Sanders Jr. and Rubye Coleman-Sanders, who both received advanced degrees from the UGA College of Education, the scholarship fund will assist underrepresented students at UGA who wish to teach in communities that typically struggle to retain quality teachers. It’s a way to give back to the university that helped propel the couple to successful careers, they said, and they look forward to helping the next generation do the same.
“We worked in higher education, and we know how difficult it is, especially now, for students to come up with the money to go to school. We wanted to pay it forward,” said Sanders. “We instilled in our son the same values our parents instilled in us: to try and achieve at your highest level, and then give back.”
The couple’s decision comes at a time when UGA is focused on expanding financial assistance for students. In the UGA College of Education, nearly half of undergraduate students face unmet financial needs. This includes not only paying for tuition and fees but also affording transportation or housing.
“We are humbled by the commitment that Johnny and Rubye have shown to future educators coming to the College of Education,” said Craig H. Kennedy, dean of the college. “This scholarship will change the lives of the students it will serve.”
Education is at the core of the couple’s life, something instilled by their parents. Both came from large families that made earning a high school diploma a priority. Sanders graduated from Coppinville High School in Enterprise, Alabama, in 1967, and Coleman-Sanders graduated from Carver High School in Union Springs, Alabama, in 1967.
Sanders and Coleman-Sanders pushed beyond high school, though. They served as each other’s cheerleader as they earned advanced degrees. After graduating from Alabama State University, where they met, Coleman-Sanders received a master’s degree from Wayne State University in Michigan and then received her doctorate from UGA. Sanders received his master’s, educational specialist and doctoral degrees from UGA.
“After completing our doctorates from the University of Georgia, we have definitely experienced the American dream, something most people aspire to,” Coleman said.
Along with the support they received from each other, the couple agrees that without the help of graduate assistantships and other financial aid, their advanced degrees would have been much harder to achieve, if at all.
That’s why they felt strongly about establishing the Dr. Johnny Sanders Jr. and Dr. Rubye Coleman-Sanders Teacher Education Scholarship Fund. Financial aid put their goals within reach, and they want others to be able to experience success too.
“The University of Georgia was so great to provide financial assistance when we attended. This will help students aspire to the levels that we aspired to,” said Sanders. “And hopefully, they will make a valued contribution to society as a whole. So it works both ways, for society and the University of Georgia.”
The scholarship will be created by the residual from the couple’s estate. Sanders said this type of planned gift allows them to enjoy their retirement while also knowing that their love of education will continue in the form of financial assistance for qualified students.
Because their graduate degrees elevated their careers, it only seemed natural to help future students, coming from underrepresented populations, have the same opportunity.
With their planned gift, they said, they can build off their own achievements to change the lives of students at UGA and the lives of the students taught in the classroom.