Michigan First plans to award more than $50,000 in local scholarships

By: Jessica Strachan | Southfield Sun | Published January 30, 2013


LATHRUP VILLAGE — Thanks to the Michigan First Foundation, the 1-year-old nonprofit established by the Lathrup Village-based credit union, more than $50,000 in scholarship money is up for grabs.

Local students can vie for the money this year through video and essay contests. Michigan First Credit Union and its young-adult financial program, Young & Free Michigan, has given away more than $650,000 in scholarships to metro Detroit students in less than a decade. This year, they’ve upped the ante with a $10,000 grand prize in each of the three categories, according to organizers.

“By expanding our scholarships this year, we’ll be able to make an even greater impact in the lives and futures of local students,” Michael Poulos, Michigan First’s president and CEO, said in the announcement. “This credit union was founded by Detroit teachers, and education is something we believe in doing our part to support. We’ll continue to work with local schools, educators and communities through our scholarships, student-run credit union branches and the Young & Free Michigan program.”

The three scholarship categories include a high school video contest, a high school essay contest and a college video contest — all open to metro-area students. Applicants can create their response with a 60-second video or a 300-word essay.

For each category, this year’s question is “What would you do with $50,000?” The three winners will receive a $10,000 scholarship, and runners-up will receive $5,000 and $3,000 scholarships. The top 10 applicants in each category will be selected by online voting, and a panel of judges will select the winners.

“Investing in the communities where our members live and work is a critical part of who we are,” Poulos added.

Ryan Smith, a 21-year-old student studying biological sciences at Wayne State University, was the grand-prize winner of last year’s contest.

Smith, who plans to go into the medical field, said he’s won scholarships before, but nothing with this big of an impact.

“As a college student, the financial stress is very high, and I’m always seeking out ways to help cover costs,” he said. “This scholarship really gave me the opportunity to focus on school work, which is what I should be focused on. It eased the situation for me, and I was definitely blessed to get it.”

Smith saw a flier posted by the Michigan First branch on his campus and, that same day, secured his membership and went to work on the video. Calling himself an “average Joe” with not a ton of video experience, he said he just had fun with it and talked about how powerful education is to him — a script that came easily, he noted.

A few days later, it was finished, and within a few weeks, he had the news that his fall tuition was covered. He even had funds left over to cover his applications for medical school, he added.

“The fact that they do scholarship contests and really open them up to the public — that’s something overlooked by other banks and credit unions. It really shows they care,” he said.

In addition to the more than $50,000 awarded through the three categories this year, up to 30 $1,000 scholarships may be awarded to entries from selected high school participants in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties, according to Michigan Young & Free spokesperson Austin Chapman.

“Education has always been at the center of our community outreach. It’s very important to us,” Chapman, who serves as the youth advocate for financial awareness, explained. “We are really excited to support students, and with student debt continuing to rise, we feel these scholarships are really important.”

As a student, himself, studying architecture at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Chapman said that, whether you come out on top with a $10,000 grand prize or a $1,000 to help cover costs, it’s a big help.

“My advice is to apply for every opportunity you see. Every little bit of scholarship funds help,” he said. “There is no scholarship too insignificant to apply for.”

Scholarship applicants must be members of the Michigan First Credit Union, according to the rules of the contest, though the high school seniors and current college students applying can join when they apply for the contest.

Applications are being accepted until Feb. 12 at www.YoungFreeMichigan.com, and the public voting kicks off Feb. 13, lasting just under a week. The scholarship winners will be selected the week of March 4.

For more information, visit YoungFreeMichigan.com.