By Scott Bigelow
UNCP's new Mazda Scholars - From left: Annemarie Pender of the Mazda Foundation, Ryan Regan, Mazda Scholar from Lumberton, Ryan Chavis, Mazda Scholar from Pembroke and Barbara Nocera of the Mazda Foundation
The class of 2008 Mazda Scholars were introduced at a "Celebration of Achievement" on April 23 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
High School seniors, Ryan Chavis of Purnell Swett High School and Ryan Regan of Lumberton High School, will receive a total of $50,000 from the Mazda Foundation to fund their education at UNCP.
Two graduating Mazda Scholars were also honored at the event that was attended by representatives from the Mazda Foundation and Williamson Mazda of Lumberton. Deanna Bullard, who finished at the top of her class in the School of Business, and Jessica Caulder represent the first class of Mazda Scholars.
The Mazda Foundation funds the scholarship program for business majors at UNCP as part of its efforts to aid minorities in its local communities, said Barbara Nocera, director of Government and Public Affairs for Mazda's North American Operations and program director for the Mazda Foundation.
"Mazda strongly believes that a company has a responsibility to give something back to the communities in which it does business," Nocera said. "A focus on youth and educational opportunities for minorities are common threads that run through many of the programs funded by the foundation."
"A lot of credit must go to Rick Williamson of the local Mazda dealership who steered us to UNCP, and, like the good salesman that he is, sold us on this project," she said.
Williamson, president and CEO of Williamson Mazda, said he heard about the foundation's work in 2000 when he was president of the National Dealer Council. He has been an automobile dealer in Lumberton for 32 years and 25 years as a Mazda dealer.
"I got an opportunity to talk with the foundation about their minority scholarship program," Williamson said. "I was tickled to death to get something like this for my community. At that time, I believe it was the largest grant from the Mazda Foundation."
Williamson, who is on the UNCP Foundation board of directors, said he was pleased to see how well the first two Mazda Scholars performed in college.
"To their credit, those girls did a great job," he said. "I like the idea that we could help change lives for the better. It was a great night."
Chancellor Allen C. Meadors praised the graduating Mazda Scholars and thanked Mazda for its continuing investment in UNCP and its students.
"Our first two Mazda Scholars will be walking across the stage in just a few days," Chancellor Meadors said. "They have done a wonderful job here."
"Rick and his wife Beth Williamson are two of the finest people I know," he said. "I appreciate their contributions, not only for what they do for the University, but for the entire region."
A Maxton native, Bullard will attend UNC-Chapel Hill's Master's of Public Health program next fall. She thanked the Mazda Foundation for making her dreams come true.
"I have three sisters and all of us went to college, so Mazda relieved a financial burden for my parents," Bullard said. "I would like to thank UNCP too. The University has been my life for four years."
A Fairmont native, Caulder wants to start a small business after graduation. She thanked Mazda and said UNCP was an ideal place for her.
"The professors and staff of UNCP will do anything they can to help students achieve their goals," Caulder said. "I would also like to thank Mazda for investing in me."
"These are two very fine candidates to carry on the tradition of our Mazda Scholars," Clark said. "Both of them worked during high school, both of them are involved in their school and community and both are good students."
For more information about the Mazda Scholars program or about scholarship programs at UNCP, please call the Office for Advancement at 910.521.6252.