Roan Scholars program takes students out of comfort zone

Carmen Musick • Jan 16, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Kingsport’s Sabrina Satterfield has no idea what the future holds. A soon-to-be Army wife, she could end up most anywhere. What she does know, however, is that she’s prepared for whatever comes her way — thanks in large part to a dynamic four-year curriculum that took her outside her comfort zone and delivered her back safely with a wide range of experiences that she might have otherwise never have had.

Visionary Louis H. Gump, a long-time friend of East Tennessee State University, came up with the idea to establish a program that promoted the quality of leadership necessary to carry the mountain region forward. His goal was to entice local students who exhibited important traits — like leadership and character — to stay closer to home at ETSU.

In 1998, Gump and ETSU President Paul E. Stanton Jr., formally decided to start the program and, with the help of Dr. Nancy Dishner, the “Roan” was born.

“I specifically remember someone from my school who had been a Roan Scholar and thinking that it was just a fantastic and phenomenal opportunity, so that was my goal in life, to become one,” said Satterfield, a 2006 graduate of Sullivan South.

The innovative program draws its inspiration from Roan Mountain, the highest peak in the area, a motivational sight and symbol of the strength, character and idealism of the region’s people.

A four-year leadership curriculum including carefully selected real-world experiences, the Roan Scholars program offers development opportunities to students who show great potential in the areas of character, leadership, intellectual curiosity and physical vigor. Each scholar selected for the program receives a full scholarship, help with room and board, a book stipend and a laptop computer.

“When you asked me about the program, the first thing I thought of was the scholarship. It is such a huge gift and such a huge blessing, and I honestly believe it held me to a higher accountability level than I might have held myself to otherwise,” Satterfield said.

“I was accountable and responsible to these professionals who had chosen me to represent ETSU and Sullivan South High School. I felt like it was my duty and my job to make a difference on campus and in the community,” she explained.

Unlike most scholarship programs, participation in Roan Scholars is not initiated through student application. Instead, students are nominated by their high school principals and each high school is limited, based on class size, in the number of nominations it is allowed to submit.

From there, the selection process includes three steps. In step one, a screening panel reviews all nomination packets to ensure the applicants meet the eligibility requirements. In step two, regional selection committees whose members have been chosen because they exhibit the same qualities and characteristics that are being sought in Roan Scholar nominees evaluate credentials, interview each eligible nominee, and select regional finalists from their applicant pool. Then, in step three, the finalists are invited to the ETSU campus for a formal interview with the Roan Scholars Steering Committee, a group appointed by the university president to oversee the program.

Of all those nominated, very few are chosen. When Satterfield entered the program in 2006, there were only four picked in each class. The goal is to expand that number to 10 per year.

“The Roan program offered a dynamic option to enhance my college experience,” said Kingsport’s Grace McCord, a Dobyns-Bennett graduate now in her second year as a Roan Scholar at ETSU.

Once selected, in addition to the regular academic curriculum for the career path the Scholars choose to pursue, Roan Scholars embark on a four-year journey that promises to enrich their college experience and provide them the opportunity to further develop the leadership talents they have already begun to exhibit.

“Through the program, I feel like I really learned a lot about my leadership style and how to challenge myself, and how to be effective and … how to know when you’re hurting more than you’re helping,” Satterfield said.

Throughout the four-year program, mentors, community leaders, peers and the program staff support students in developing their skill levels and confidence.

“With the Roan, you get placed into a family setting. People check up on you and the students in the Roan program become some of your best friends,” McCord said.

“Mr. Gump [the guru of the Roan program] is outstanding. He is very actively involved in all that we do. It isn’t everyday that the ‘boss’ hangs out with the ‘employees’ so that, in itself, speaks wonders about the program,” she pointed out.

In the first year, the highlight of the program is a physical outdoor experience with an emphasis on team-building skills. They also participate in a local citizens’ academy, initiating the program’s community focus.

“The first thing we did was a 10-day outdoor adventure, out in the woods, that’s basically taking you out of your comfort zone and challenging you to do things that are different than what you normally do,” Satterfield said.

“Sometimes, there’s the Boy Scout on your trip that knows how to do it all, and then there’s someone like me who knew nothing. You learn really fast what your strengths and weaknesses are,” she said.

The second year, the scholars participate in two internships or job shadowing opportunities in their selected career fields or something closely related. These mentor experiences allow the scholars to observe various leadership styles while developing their own leadership goals.

“The Roan program allows a standard to be set for oneself. Being in the Roan program hasn’t let me fall from my goals because people have expectations and are providing the support that most individuals wouldn’t get on a consistent basis,” McCord said.

The third year, scholars participate in regional community service learning programs, as well as a crisis communication workshop, all leading up to the culmination of the program — a fourth year that includes participation in a summer enrichment activity and a senior capstone project.

In recent years, in keeping with another long-range goal for the program, more and more international experiences have been added to the mix.

For her summer enrichment program, for example, Satterfield taught as an elementary teacher at the Mandella School in Ghana through a program coordinated by United Playground, an organization that places volunteers in select settings in Africa.

And, this year, McCord and another Roan Scholar are spending the spring semester studying abroad. Just last week, McCord arrived in Vaxjo, Sweden, where she’ll spend six months studying at Vaxjo University.

By taking advantage of the opportunities and experiences offered, graduates who successfully complete the program leave college prepared to become engaged leaders in their chosen fields, as well as their communities at large.

“I thought I knew a lot about it, but I don’t believe that I did. I didn’t realize what kind of opportunities were going to be provided. I knew that it was a great experience, but I didn’t know really what it would challenge me to do,” Satterfield said.

“Now that I’ve graduated, I feel like it is still challenging me to share what I’ve learned, by living a life that is relational and community focused, and by giving back,” she added.

In 2008, as the Roan Scholars celebrated a decade of excellence on the ETSU campus and in the community, Gump announced long-range goals for the program, which include plans to increase the endowment from $6.4 million to $25 million, provide funding for at least 10 scholars per years; and to provide the scholars with an international experience.

“I think those experiences I’ve had probably could have been available to me without the program, but would the drive have been there to go ahead and go the extra mile? I honestly don’t think so,” Satterfield said.

“Would I take advantage of those opportunities now that I’ve seen what a difference they can make? Absolutely. I know I will make more of an effort to be a lifelong learner, now, because I see the benefit of it. I think some of the things I have learned are things that would have taken me years to figure out on my own.”

Kingsport Times News Videos