It surprised and concerned Steve Dillman when he recently learned that nearly 50% of students at his alma mater of Shawnee Mission West (SMW) High School in Overland Park, Kan., qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and have limited collegiate prospects due to financial constraints.
“The demographics have shifted since I was a student there, and obviously, the cost of a college education has skyrocketed nationwide,” said Dillman, a KU graduate.
“I talked with my wife, Kelly, and we decided we had to do something to help,” he said. “We were already working with KU Endowment as part of our estate planning, so establishing a scholarship to help SWM students attend KU seemed like a natural fit.”
He began with a pitch to his brother Chris Dillman, and Chris recruited two other friends with SMW and KU connections, Daphne Hearn and Scott Rehorn, to join in the endeavor. Establishing the Shawnee Mission West Vikings Scholarship manifested quickly. The four friends gave $10,000 each and offered to match donations from others. In just over two years, more than 60 others have donated, bringing the fund to about $120,000. The first four-year scholarships of $5,000 annually were awarded in spring 2022.
Now in his ninth year as SMW principal, Steven Loe said the scholarship creates opportunities for Vikings who are academically ready for college but lack the resources to pursue their dreams. “We know KU is an amazing and challenging place that can be life-changing,” said Loe, who is also a KU alumnus.
The first two recipients, KU freshmen Riley Hargrove and Joyce Kioko, both come from single-mother homes.
“Words cannot describe how grateful my family and I are,” said Kioko, who wants to work with children and is studying psychology with a minor in sociology. “I was at work when I received the call, and I was overjoyed. There were tears in my eyes. I want to thank all the donors from the bottom of my heart for being so generous, humble and gracious.”
Hargrove, who is studying exercise science and aspires to become a physical therapist, believes the scholarship will open paths for her beyond attaining her bachelor’s degree. “It will help me pursue my career dreams and lessen the debt I will incur for school, allowing me to focus solely on my education,” she said.
“There’s no better way to give back to West and KU,” Rehorn said. “We want to help more students each year go to Kansas, and we hope to have the chance to give them more money.”
Hearn joined the scholarship effort in part because she values the lasting friendships from high school. “I have traveled back to my old neighborhood near SMW and was surprised by the changes,” she said. “It is nice to give back to a community that was so good to us and to those who both need support and deserve it.”
You can help
To support the college dreams of more SMW Vikings, visit www.kuendowment.org/SMWScholarship. To learn more about scholarships in general, contact Abbey Ambrose at 785-832-7355 or email@example.com.