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Advocate for education remembered through endowment

Norfolk family creates dual-credit scholarship fund

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Posted: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 9:11 am

Students at Norfolk High School already are able to get a jump on their college education, thanks to a program which allows for dual-credit earning.

But now, thanks to a new endowment, the program has become affordable for many more students.

The Norfolk Public Schools Foundation announced this week the creation of the Margaret Robinson Higher Education Fund, made possible because of a gift from the family of the late Robinson, a longtime advocate of education.

The $250,000 endowment will generate $10,000 in interest earnings each year to be used for scholarships, available to Norfolk High juniors and seniors. For the 2013-14 school year, the foundation will offer 100 scholarships at $100 each.

Dave Ptak, president of the foundation, said the scholarship program is a unique opportunity for Norfolk High students.

“Traditionally, our types of scholarships are for graduating seniors. So this was a way that we could address a segment of students from Norfolk Public Schools who had not been benefiting from anything that the foundation had — other than through our classroom grants and things we do with teachers in the system,” Ptak said.

Sarah Dittmer, executive director of the foundation, said the family of Mrs. Robinson expressed interest in supporting a dual-credit scholarship program that will allow Norfolk High students to enroll in classes that will provide them high school credit as well as from Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

“There’s a tie between Margaret with Northeast and the Norfolk Public Schools, and there’s also the Robinson family’s multi-generational ties to Norfolk,” Dittmer said. “I think the endowment supports Norfolk on a bunch of different levels whether it’s the college level or the high school level. This kind of bridges a gap between those two and matches them up to each other,” Dittmer said.

Robinson, who died in 2002, was extensively involved in education efforts in Norfolk as a member of the Norfolk board of education, as well as serving on the board of directors for Norfolk Junior College (now Northeast Community College). Robinson also was a member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, where she was the first woman elected to the position. During her years as a regent, she also served as chairwoman of the board.

Robinson’s son, Richard Robinson, said full credit for the endowment idea goes to his daughter-in-law, Julie Robinson. He said Julie, who serves as the vice president of the NPS Foundation board as well as on the Northeast Community College board of governors, was looking for a way to both honor Robinson’s memory as well as to help education.

“Education is big in our family, and Julie was looking for a way to tie that into my mom’s legacy, and came up with the idea of helping students of Norfolk High School with dual credits,” Robinson said. “Our family got behind it, helped fund it, and we’re very proud of this scholarship that’s available to the students in my mom’s name.”

Julie’s husband, Arnie, is a member of the Norfolk Public Schools board of education. The Robinson family owns and operates Norfolk Iron & Metal.

The scholarships through the Margaret Robinson Higher Education fund will be offered to students who are not already eligible to receive an ACE (Access College Early) scholarship — a state-funded program based on financial eligibility including a family hardship or receiving assistance through government programs.

Those who didn’t meet those low-income criteria needed to be addressed, Ptak said, because the cost of the dual-credit program can still be a financial burden on many families.

“We have high-achievers who mostly get most of the merit-type scholarships, and we have those that would qualify for the ACE scholarship. But there’s a large majority in the middle who don’t qualify for either . . . and they could benefit by being able to take those dual-credit courses,” Ptak said.

Richard Robinson said it’s important to level the playing field so everyone has a chance at a quality education.

“Education was really important to my mother and to our entire family — we’re big believers in education and public education. We think it’s an important part of the fabric of our community and our family and the whole country. People can’t get ahead in life unless they can get an education,” he said.

“When kids in high school have the opportunity to get credit for college credits, when they leave Norfolk High, they have the opportunity to just be a step ahead when they go onto their next level of education. Whether they go to Northeast Community College or whether they go to the University of Nebraska, it doesn’t matter. They’ve got a chance to get a little bit of a head start on the way to their education,” he added.

© 2015 The Norfolk Daily News . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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