Lipscomb University announced a partnership with Amazon this week that will help expand its Regional Leaders program, allowing it to take on more students in the program aimed at working community leaders.
State Rep. Mark White, director of leadership and public service at Lipscomb, said the partnership is one of many the school has been building to increase the reach of the program, which began two years ago and allows leaders an affordable entry to the university’s Master of Arts program in leadership and public service.
“There is great need for individuals who are passionate about serving our urban and rural communities who are equipped with the tools to be effective and strong leaders,” White said. “As an industry leader, Amazon understands the importance of developing strong leaders in communities across Tennessee.”
Amazon is sponsoring scholarships for three leaders from Middle Tennessee, White said, for about $45,000.
White said one of the program’s goals is to seek out partners like Amazon to grow the program’s enrollment and reach and to give leaders from rural communities scholarships that will allow them to attend the otherwise expensive graduate program. Thanks to other partnerships with organizations including the Jim and Janet Ayers Foundation and the Bill and Crissy Haslam Foundation, the school graduated 13 leaders this year, with 21 more enrolled in the program for the 2021-22 school year.
“Our vision over the next five years is to run several hundred through the program from across the state,” White said.
Ideally, he added, it will help to empower those leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to lead their communities toward greater prosperity.
White said the people he looks for when recruiting for the program are local mayors, county leaders and others who are taking on responsibility for their communities but may not be receiving the kind of money that would pay for a Lipscomb graduate degree.
“Most of these are not high-paying positions,” he said, noting that the degree, if you just walked off the street with no assistance, costs about $32,500. He said some rural officials make only about $25,000 per year.
Through the Regional Scholars program, Lipscomb provides about half of the funding and asks partners to provide $15,000 per student. They ask for a $5,000 personal buy-in from participants, he said.
“Amazon jumped on board very quickly. They see the need for strong leadership,” he said.
“As a significant employer in the state and as a member of the broader Tennessee community, Amazon has a vested interest in helping to cultivate the next generation of local leaders,” Courtney Ross, Amazon senior manager of external affairs for Nashville, said in a statement. “Lipscomb University’s Regional Scholars Program is an innovative initiative, and our investment will help expand its reach, extending its benefits statewide to rural and urban communities.”
White said that in the long term, they hope the program helps address a growing problem for young people in Tennessee.
Often, young people from rural areas will need to leave their communities to go to college or gain some technical training, he said, but a lack of relevant jobs will often force them to leave their hometowns, whether that was the plan or not.
“We’re trying to reverse that in Tennessee, where a young person who grows up in a rural community, who wants to stay in his rural community, can do so because there’s economic activity there,” White said. “And that’s supported by a strong leader in that community, whether that be the county mayor, or the county commission, to bring in that economic opportunity so that the jobs are there,” White said.
White encouraged leaders, businesses and foundations interested in tackling the problem to contact him at email@example.com.