Three Tech Promise Alumni Talk Giving Back
“Give back to improve the experience of the people who will come after you.” That’s one of the profound messages Chad Sims took away from his time at Georgia Tech. And almost a decade later, he’s still laser-focused on that tenet. In fact, what began for him as a $10-a-year contribution in 2010, when he was just a first-year Yellow Jacket, has evolved into an ongoing financial commitment that essentially represents “as much as Georgia Tech gave me thanks to Tech Promise.”
Sims sees his philanthropy as a small way to express gratitude for all the opportunities he was afforded because of Tech — including meeting his wife Ashley.
Today, a director at powerhouse restaurant company Focus Brands, Sims said his post-graduation donations started modestly, bumped up a few extra digits from his $10 in college.
“At first, I said, ‘Hey, let me do something simple like $500,’” he said. “Then, as my career grew, I did different calculations of what giving back looked like for me, and I reached a point where I was very comfortable with where I was in terms of pay and in my company.” That financial security then led him to an even deeper commitment: Through the Georgia Tech Foundation, Sims started an endowed scholarship in the names of his mother and aunt.
When totally funded in the next three years, the Tracy Sims and Dianne Robinson GTBAO [Georgia Tech Black Alumni Organization] Scholarship will provide an opportunity for a Scheller College of Business undergraduate to benefit from this pool of funds meant to assist students with demonstrated financial need — and pay tribute to two of his dearest family members.
Chad Sims poses with his family for a photo to celebrate the scholarship endowment in honor of his mother Tracy Sims (extreme left) and Dianne Robinson (second from left). Also pictured: Harvey Robinson (uncle) and Ashley Sims (wife).
Stephen Webber looks out at the Homecoming Game crowd during his victory ride in the Ramblin’ Wreck, following the announcement of his win of the Mr. Georgia Tech title back in 2013.
Cecili Poole, who describes public speaking as an element of her post-graduation life that’s one of the things she’s most proud of, addresses an audience at a software engineering conference in 2019.
Sims already has in mind how it all turns out, envisioning an emotional meetup with the scholarship beneficiary: “My mom and aunt will be standing at Tech beside a Black student who was the scholarship recipient, and I’ll be able to say to them you were a part of my Tech story, but now you’re part of Tech in a special way even outside of my story.”
The Personal Connection
Another former Tech Promise Scholar, Stephen Webber, knows well just how special the giving story can be when there’s that personal connection.
Webber, who began giving back through Roll Call, the Institute’s unrestricted giving program, said he began making automatic monthly deductions “literally, right after graduation.”
He also makes supplementary contributions throughout the year, as people reach out for particular Tech causes and when general recurring opportunities arise like National Giving Day and Georgia Tech Giving Day. But added to that, he and his Yellow Jacket wife, Samantha, make regular contributions specifically to the Stephen A. Webber Scholarship, an endowment anonymously begun in his name under the Tech Promise umbrella when he graduated from Tech with his bachelor’s degree in 2013.
Speaking to the power of the personal connections tied to scholarship-giving, Webber said, “What’s really cool is there are not many nonprofits you can donate to and know that your money is going exactly to this person. But I get notes from one or two students every year who I helped support through my scholarship, and they’re the best letters I get — you’re making a direct impact on an individual’s life. You could follow their story.”
The gratification that comes from being able to have that direct impact on someone’s life is what former Tech Promise Scholar Cecili Poole offers as encouragement to would-be donors or those looking to increase their need-based funding contributions.
“No matter what kind of life you’ve had, someone has helped you knowingly or unknowingly. Think about where you’d be without that support; life might be pretty different without that pivotal moment,” said Poole. “If you could see that in your own life, why not be a person who could do that for someone else.”
Indeed, Poole is doing just that — to the tune of $75,000.
In January, Georgia Tech’s Office of Undergraduate Education announced the establishment of the Poole First-Generation Student Initiatives Endowment Fund, thanks to her commitment of $25,000, payable over five years, as well as a $50,000 match from Netflix, where she’s a senior software engineer.
Poole, who graduated with a computer science degree in 2014, initially enrolled at Tech to pursue a career in biomedical engineering because “being a first-generation college student, my parents only knew the typical career paths of lawyer, teacher, doctor.” So, based on that limited guidance, she’d planned on becoming a doctor — that is, until she was exposed to computer science during her first year at Tech and discovered her true passion. Until that point, she had no idea a software engineering career was even an option.
“The biggest challenge for me as a first-generation college student was not knowing what I didn’t know,” Poole said. “It’s definitely hard to ask the right questions and find the right resources if you don’t know,” which is why she’s focused on helping first-generation students, in particular. The fund will be split between First- Generation and Limited-Income Student Initiatives and the First-Gen Student Organization, which she created during her undergraduate years at Georgia Tech. Today, she’s pursuing a master’s degree online in machine learning — back at Tech.
Webber, who also keeps in touch with Tech beyond philanthropy, explained the desire to stay connected: “I get to see how amazing Tech students are and that Georgia Tech is changing their lives every day. It certainly changed my life.”
A merchant at The Home Depot, Webber said his giving back to Tech is not only because of his attachment to the Institute but also because of how it aligns with his longtime employer’s philosophy.
“One of the things our founders always said is they wanted The Home Depot to be a source of wealth creation for their associates. I think higher education does exactly that.”