STARTING YOUNG
A SCHOLARSHIP FUNDED BY A YOUNG ALUMNA – INSPIRED BY HER OWN EXPERIENCE – IS HELPING STUDENTS FINISH THEIR BUSINESS EDUCATIONS.
BY KAREN-JANINE COHEN

starting.jpg Although she’s only in her mid-30s, Kourtney Gibson (BBA ’03) is already changing lives at the School of Business through an endowed scholarship she has funded. Gibson is president of and partner in Chicago-based Loop Capital Markets, where she leads the firm’s global equity, taxable fixed income and transition management divisions. Four years ago, she funded the Kourtney K. Ratliff Endowed Scholarship (named for her maiden name), and she put in additional money so that scholarship funds could be given out immediately (instead of waiting for the endowment to mature).

The scholarship helps close the gap between what students have in scholarships and other funding and school costs. It supports sophomores with a 3.5 or higher GPA, with preference given to African-Americans who are U.S. citizens. The award is renewable each year, and a new sophomore receives the award each year as well. Gibson’s gift has so far aided a trio of School of Business students.

The decision to create the scholarship arose from Gibson’s own college experience. Though she had received academic merit and University scholarships, she still faced a funding shortfall of several thousand dollars after her freshman year. Her parents took out a loan to cover the difference. Gibson wants to save others from experiencing that kind of worry, especially as some families can’t secure outside loans or access other funding. She says the extra support can mean the difference between finishing an education and dropping out.

Knowing how education made all the difference in her life, Gibson didn’t want to wait to help students faced with such challenges. “It’s important for people to give back and make sure others have the opportunity you have had. I take that very seriously,” says Gibson, who earned an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management after graduating from the School of Business. “I knew I was the recipient of someone else’s scholarship. When you have been blessed, it’s your obligation to bless others.”

In 2015, Nautica Allen (BBA ’17) became the first Kourtney K. Ratliff Scholar. The finance major, who is minoring in business technology and sociology, didn’t even know she was up for the award, because the Office of Financial Aid chooses the students. “To be selected and not even know you are under consideration – I was ecstatic,” says Allen, who graduated in May. The award meant financial relief during her remaining years at the School.

Allen, who hails from Atlanta, says she came to know Miami through family vacations, which made choosing the University an easy decision, especially because it represented a change from her hometown. “I wanted to go to a whole new place,” she says. After receiving the Ratliff scholarship, she became interested in knowing more about Gibson’s background. “I actually went back and read her story again,” she says. “If I make it big and can give back support to UM, that is what I want to do.” Allen plans to apply to law school.

The 2016 Ratliff scholar, Shannon Roberts, is majoring in accounting with a minor in finance and willgraduate in December. She was born in North Miami Beach, went to high school in Atlanta and is of Caribbean descent; her parents hail from Antigua. A post-acceptance tour of the University and a talk by EllenMarie McPhillip, the School’s assistant dean for undergraduate business education, were decisive in Roberts’ decision to attend the School. “I loved the campus, and I wanted a school that was big on diversity,” she says.

Roberts was tremendously excited to become a Ratliff scholar. She had received other scholarships that semester, but the fact that Gibson is African-American had an extra impact on her. “That stuck with me; I was really happy to learn about all her accomplishments,” she says. The scholarship has made a big difference, she adds, noting that her parents were able to access additional money to supplement her other scholarships, but Roberts worried about their financial stresses and even contemplated leaving school. The scholarship put an end to those thoughts. “I was so grateful because I love the University of Miami, I really do,” she says. “I don’t know where else I would get the type of experience I’ve gotten here.”

Like Allen, Roberts hopes to follow in Gibson’s footsteps. “I think it is very important that you acknowledge you are where you are today not only because of your efforts,” she says, “but because a lot of other people worked for you to achieve what you wanted to achieve.”

For Gibson, lending a helping hand comes naturally. The Racine, Wisconsin, native was wooed by the University with several scholarships, and was enchanted with the region’s diversity and the presence of faculty and students from around the world. During her time at the School, she volunteered with a program that tutors kids in South Miami – some of whom knew no one who pursued higher education. At some point, Gibson says, she would like to craft an initiative within her scholarship that would encourage similar kinds of outreach.

Spring 2017
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