During my second to last semester at the University of Illinois, while also in my last season on the Illinois Trial Team, our executive board had done a great job of recovering from many issues stemming from the previous year. Since many of our bigger problems had been solved, mainly budgetary concerns and large personnel changes, it was time to look for ways to give back to our community. As the organization’s president, I was always looking for ways to improve the team and its impact for the better.
Putting the Scholarship Together
I had been thinking that a great way to give back to the U of I community would be through an organization sponsored scholarship. Not only would it help the Trial Team brand’s image, and maybe introduce us to a few more students who may not have heard of the team before, it would be a great way to make a truly positive impact on an individual at our school. With the blessing of our board, it was time to get to work.
To raise additional funds for the scholarship, our vice president and I began reaching out to law firms in the Champaign and Chicago areas. We told them that we were looking to start a scholarship program and that major donors would be recognized for their contributions. Our relationships with law firms within the state was fairly limited, given the fact that we were (and still are!) a pre-law organization, so it would also serve as an opportunity to establish beneficial relationships with them for future years.
We decided to create a rather traditionally formatted scholarship contest: up to 75 entries would be accepted for an essay contest. Applicants were allowed up to two pages to answer either of the following prompts: “Why is it beneficial to study the law?” – or – “Why should someone join an organization like the Illinois Trial Team while in college?” Applicants also were required to have a 3.2 undergraduate GPA or a 3.5 high school GPA assuming they had not yet begun college. With the prompt set, we began reaching out for assistance.
After contacting a couple dozen firms and attorneys that we knew or were referred to, we were quickly able to raise $1,600 for our new scholarship! It was as simple as sending them a letter explaining the contest itself, and then asking them if they wanted to get involved. Many said no, but they often pointed us in the direction of other attorneys who may have wanted to get involved. They were also told that donors over $500 would be allowed to put their name or their firm’s name on the scholarship if they wanted to, and smaller donations would also be recognized on our website.
Picking a Winner
Once we had our final pool set after accepting donations for about a month, we started spreading the word about the scholarship. We contacted our email list, handed out flyers, and made announcements in classes. We left applications open for about a month and a half, and we received about 20 applications. While we obviously would have loved to have seen more, we were happy that many of the applicants had not previously tried out for the trial team, so they likely were just introduced to our organization. Either way, it was positive impact that other students could recognize.
Finally, after evaluating all of the essays, we picked our winner and mailed the scholarship check!
All in all, the Illinois Trial Team Higgins & Brancheau, Aceves & Perez $1,600 Scholarship was a great success. This inaugural program will hopefully set a strong precedent for future executive boards to continue it and look for other ways to give back, and maybe encourage other student organizations to create their own. I thank all of the individuals and law firms who donated to this cause and increased their involvement with the Illinois Trial Team. It felt very good to give back, even if it required some leg work to collect donations and spread the word. I have great confidence that the scholarship can be reliably sustained for years to come, and that many students will happily benefit from our efforts.