Career Classroom: Company scholarships combine philanthropy with workforce benefits

A growing number of New Jersey-based companies are investing in the state’s county vocational-technical students, recognizing the potential for significant returns on that investment, including a future employee pipeline.

Generous corporate donors, such as Investors Bank, NJM Insurance Group and SHI International Corp., have awarded grants to the New Jersey Association of Counties Foundation to fund scholarships for county vocational-technical students who are pursuing post-secondary education at a New Jersey public institution. Donors can further refine the requirements of their scholarships to target recipients studying to enter their respective industry.

Investors Bank has generously provided the most scholarship funding to date, through grants totaling $220,000 since 2011. The company has supported more than 250 county vocational-technical school graduates — and counting.

“These scholarships help keep students in-state to continue learning at New Jersey’s great institutions,” said John G. Donnadio, executive director of the NJAC. “Our long-term goal is for them to remain here after graduation to apply the skills and knowledge they developed both in high school and college to our workforce.”

John Minnella, New Jersey and New York district manager for SHI International Corp., said that long-term goal is an important one for a company like SHI that offers a wide range of information technology services, including cybersecurity. 

“It’s pretty evident when you look at the news, cybersecurity issues are becoming more prevalent,” Minnella said. “With so many cybercriminals out there, we are eager to combat that by encouraging more of the good guys and gals to enter the ecosystem with the right technological training and tools to offer protection.”

Nicholas Nawrotzki is one of those “good guys.” The recent graduate of Hunterdon County Vocational School District’s Computer Science & Applied Engineering Academy is the district’s recipient this year of a $500 SHI scholarship.

“While I am uncertain as to what my future career may be, this scholarship will help me explore forensics and cybersecurity fields; both interest me,” he said.

He began that exploration in high school through his highly focused computer science and engineering coursework, and will continue his journey at Raritan Valley Community College.

SHI first partnered with the NJAC Foundation in 2019, providing $5,000 for five scholarships. The next year, it more than doubled its contribution to fund a scholarship in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties. The company has maintained that level of giving, but now looks to grow its involvement by connecting more with scholarship recipients, like Nawrotzki.

Monmouth County elected officials host representatives from SHI International Corp. to present company-funded NJAC Foundation scholarships to Monmouth County Vocational School District students.

“Personally, I love going to the scholarship presentations to meet the recipients, but I look forward to leveraging these introductions into internships or even job opportunities,” Minnella said. “That is our next goal — especially since the first group of scholarship recipients will graduate college soon and so many in college are looking to gain additional experience.”

Both SHI and NJM also say these scholarships help them support students in areas where they have offices and clients.

“There are so many corporate citizens out there who want to give back in meaningful ways,” Donnadio said. “These scholarships enable them to do just that. Their contributions help students offset some of those escalating costs of college.”

“NJM has a long history of supporting educational initiatives, especially those that help students meet the financial demands of educational pursuits,” said Pat Hartpence, NJM corporate giving officer.

Since 2014, NJM has awarded the NJAC Foundation grants totaling $47,000, aiding more than two dozen county vocational-technical school graduates. 

“This contribution to NJAC is part of our core value of supporting the communities we are privileged to serve,” Hartpence added.

A secondary benefit of giving at such a local level is that donors develop relationships with others who are equally involved — and invested — in the same communities. Among those individuals are the county commissioners.

“The county commissioners definitely take notice and appreciate the donors who contribute to these NJAC Foundation scholarships, as our county vocational-technical schools and county colleges are an extension of each county’s government,” emphasized Donnadio. 

NJAC is a nonpartisan organization that helps individual county governments develop a unified and proactive voice. According to Donnadio, it is uniquely positioned to grow its foundation, which focuses on providing innovative educational opportunities for county vocational-technical school and county college students. 

“We are connected to the counties and so many businesses that want to be part of the counties; that helps us develop partnerships that lead to new scholarships and opportunities for New Jersey students,” he said.

“We are so grateful to each donor and all the partners who have helped us grow this scholarship initiative,” said Heather Simmons, NJAC Foundation president and a Gloucester County commissioner. “Together, we are keeping our students on paths toward continued learning and training so they can make their own contributions through our state’s workforce.” 

The foundation works through the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools to select scholarship recipients based on criteria set by each donor.

With this year’s scholarships, the NJAC Foundation has now distributed nearly $500,000 to 750 students who have remained in the Garden State to further their education. 

Additional donors to the NJAC Foundation scholarships have included Amazon and Public Service Enterprise Group.

Donnadio and Simmons said they already have new names to add to that list next year and hope increased awareness will lead to even more corporate donors. 

Conversation Starter

Any company interested in providing a scholarship should contact
John G. Donnadio at