Greenleaf Trust just recognized another class of diverse scholars last month that are heading out into the world to change the face of finance.
The independent Michigan-chartered, trust-only bank and wealth management firm based in Kalamazoo, with more than $14 billion in assets under advisement, in a virtual ceremony on Dec. 1 celebrated the achievements of six recipients of the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship who graduated from their degree programs at Western Michigan University’s Haworth College of Business in 2020 — Eddie Warr, Marisol Quiros, Gerardo Ramos, Victor Perez, JaJuan Kemp and Christopher Bailey.
The Greenleaf Trust Scholarship Program awards 13 full scholarships annually to business students studying finance or personal financial planning at Western Michigan University. Students receiving the scholarship must maintain a GPA of at least 2.5 and, in doing so, receive $12,400 annually for tuition until they graduate, or for up to four years.
“We are so proud of this year’s graduating Greenleaf Trust Scholars,” said William Johnston, Greenleaf Trust founder and chair. “While we would have loved to celebrate their hard work and tremendous accomplishments in person, we will not let our inability to do so stand in the way of giving them the recognition they deserve. These students have faced 2020 with such resiliency, and we congratulate them on their successful college careers and brilliant futures.”
Johnston founded the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship a year after his firm opened its doors, with the long-term goal of changing the face of finance. He saw how the lack of representation of students of color pursuing and graduating college with a degree in finance was a detriment to building a diverse workforce and was hurting the wealth management industry as a whole.
In 1999, he founded the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship to increase diversity in these areas of higher education, as well as in the professional field of finance. In the 21 years since, 81 students have received scholarships totaling about $1.672 million in paid tuition.
The scholarship selection process is handled by the firm’s human resources department, led by Karen Baldwin and assisted by coordinators including co-leader Kimberly Dudley, who said the department puts out a call for applications each year at Western and conducts interviews to make the selections.
Greenleaf Trust also provides opportunities for a couple students per semester to complete an internship at the company. Scholars who are offered the internship have the opportunity to rotate through four divisions of the company: personal trust/wealth management, operations, research and retirement planning. During their internship, they are provided a mentor with whom they meet regularly to receive feedback and coaching.
Over 30 students have interned at Greenleaf since 1999, including Warr, a Greenleaf Trust Scholarship recipient and 2020 Western graduate who was recently hired into the firm’s wealth management division after falling in love with the practice during his internship there.
Warr said finance has always been a passion of his.
“I always wanted to gain the knowledge of finance and the workings of it, and not only that, but to be able to pass along that knowledge to clients and other individuals in my community who lack that knowledge,” he said.
“Many of the scholars, we come from backgrounds where not all of us have family members who have gone to college, so it is taking a risk to go to college and take on the bill of tuition — but then coming across a scholarship such as this relieves that pressure for you and your family, and it’s just been quite the journey of self-growth.”
He said the scholarship from Greenleaf allowed him to experience the rigor of being a full-time student while still doing extracurricular activities, including teaching financial principles to middle school and high school students through the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency, which he still does now.
“This program not only encompasses all of those things, but (also) helps you build a network of other professional individuals in the area, and that’s what my experience has been like,” he said. “I’m sure there are many other scholars who feel the same way, and we also try to stay connected, whether it be through LinkedIn or what have you. It creates a family, and we all try to help one another, no matter where we are or what we’re doing at that time.”
Warr earned from Western an associate degree in accounting and a bachelor’s in finance with a minor in economics. He started his internship in the retirement planning division at Greenleaf’s Kalamazoo office, followed by the research department, then wealth management, which is where he found his perfect fit and was offered a job.
“That’s where I found my home. You’re a bit more client-facing, and there’s never a dull moment; there’s always something new that you’re faced with,” he said.
Warr said he is happy to be where he is.
“I am honored to work for a company that has made it a pillar of their core beliefs to give opportunities to people of color in the finance industry, and, as mentioned earlier, were doing so much before it was in the mainstream media, so you know where the heart of the company lies and that they’re truly in your corner and they want to see you succeed,” he said. “And this is evident through the many different scholars that I come in contact with on a regular basis.”
Dudley said it’s impressive to realize that of the 81 scholars in the program’s history, more than 30 of them also have done internships at Greenleaf Trust.
“It is very satisfying to work with these students because you can see them grow, and when they come in for that one-year internship, and they go through the different divisions and they’re able to see what (different opportunities) a finance scholarship can look like, whether you’re working client-facing or if you’re working on Excel spreadsheets, the (variety), and so I think it’s very helpful.”
As of now, Johnson said the scholarship program is only for WMU students, but the firm is considering opening it up to colleges and universities in southeast Michigan, where it has an office in Birmingham.
More information on the Greenleaf Trust Scholarship program is at greenleaftrust.com/careers/scholarships.