Tormohlen: Helping overlooked kids get career training
Recently we’ve devoted this column to individuals working to effect positive change in the Aspen-to-Parachute region. This week we’re speaking with Paul Bushong, an oil-industry retiree who has created and funded a scholarship to support local high school graduates seeking vocational training, a certificate or a one- or two-year degree as opposed to a four-year college degree.
Bushong’s Fast Forward Scholarship is available to graduates of Glenwood Springs, Yampah Mountain, Roaring Fork and Bridges high schools. He created the scholarship to support kids who want to be welders, dental hygienists, radiation techs, auto mechanics, pastry cooks, electricians, physical therapists or other roles that don’t require a four-year college degree.
Aspen Community Foundation: How did your personal background play into the Fast Forward Scholarship?
Paul Bushong: I come from Kentucky and attended the University of Oklahoma, graduated in 1952 and spent 45 years in the oil industry as a petroleum engineer, both domestic and international. I lived in Houston for 35 years, and I’ve had a home in the Roaring Fork Valley for the past 17 years.
In the mid-1980s, I started a fund at our Episcopal church in Houston and called it the Special Outreach Fund. I have no idea why I decided to do that, but we used it to fund charities in town that were being overlooked. That’s also the situation with Fast Forward. I wanted it to be for overlooked kids who, for some reason, have not considered a post-high school education. I was told that there were no scholarships directed specifically toward this group of graduates and that as many as 35 percent of graduates had no post-high school plans.
ACF: How long has the scholarship existed, and how many students have benefited?
PB: This will be the third year. In May 2014, we had about a dozen applicants, and we gave out eight awards. In 2015, we had 14 applications, and we gave out nine awards. This year, we had 22 applications, and we’ll issue 16 scholarships.
In the two years, we’ve spent about $119,000. I’ve guaranteed a minimum of $60,000 per year, but we’re going to give away $70,000 this year. Next year, we expect more than 22 applicants, and I think it’s because these high schools are all getting additional dedicated (college and career) counselors as a result of the efforts of Aspen Community Foundation. I think we’re providing a service that hadn’t been thought of.
ACF: Have you followed up with the students? Do you know how they’ve done?
PB: All of the eight students who were issued scholarships in 2014 completed their one- and two-year education. The nine students in 2015 all enrolled and completed their first semester of work. Including this year, we will have given awards for 18 different courses of study at 13 different schools. About 50 percent are attending Colorado Mountain College.
I think it’s good for these kids, and I think it’s good for the towns they live in. Hopefully these kids will come back and work in the valley, which was an original benefit that we anticipated.
ACF: Is Fast Forward achieving what you had hoped?
PB: I think we’re successful. We’ve done as well as we could have. I thought initially, if we had 40 to 50 percent success in terms of people attending and completing, that I’d be happy. Now we anticipate over 95 percent success, so how can I be disappointed?
My projection is that down the road, we may be talking about 50 or 60 kids applying for this fund instead of 22 this year. It’s catching on, so we must raise additional funds.
This year we’ve got two kids that want to be veterinary techs. We’ve got one who wants to be a truck driver. There’s also two for electrical contracting. And look at this — gunsmith tech. There are kids that want to do these things. They’ve just come out of the woodwork.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
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