Lilly Scholars Help Improve the life of their Communities


The Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship has been helping students in Morgan County, and across Indiana, attend the college or university of their dreams since 1998. The scholarship grew out of the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, private philanthropic foundation created in 1937. The foremost priority of the Endowment’s founders was to help the people of their city and state build a better life. Consequently, the idea for the scholarship to increase the level of education in Indiana by helping Hoosiers attend Indiana colleges and universities was a natural programmatic addition for the endowment. The Lilly Scholarships are distributed through local community foundations, which serve all of the 92 counties in Indiana.The endowment also raises awareness of community foundations, and how they can help improve the quality of life of Indiana residents.

In 1999, the year after the scholarship program began, Chadwick Gillenwater, a 1999 Mooresville High School graduate, received the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship. Gillenwater was originally planning on attending Indiana University, but once he received the scholarship, he was able to go to a small private liberal arts school because funding was no longer an issue.

“The Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship, when I received it, was truly one of those moments of a dream coming true.” Gillenwater said. “I always wanted to go to school, to go to college. I was actually the first person in my family to go to college, and in my family, the struggle and the worry of how I would have the opportunity to go to school was always in question.”

Gillenwater attended Franklin College, a liberal arts college with approximately 1,200 students. Mrs. Pat Davis, Chadwick's kindergarten teacher, had insisted that he take a look at the school after her daughter had enjoyed her time at the college.

“[Mrs. Davis] said, 'Chad, you have to go to Franklin because you won’t be a number there. You will be an individual, and you will be able to shine. And, you’re the type of kid that likes to shine,” Gillenwater said. “I took a tour of Franklin, and since I knew money would not be a problem, I chose Franklin, and it was the best decision I could have made for my educational journey.”

After graduation, Chadwick took a job in Seattle at a publishing company.  He didn't stay long before he found a job as a school librarian. That's when Gillenwater found his calling as a child author and educator.

“While I was there, one of my students came running into the library saying 'Mr. Watermelon, I mean Mr. Gillenwater!'And I was aww that’s what they are calling me out on the playground,” he said. “I like it.”

Professor was added, and he his pen name was born. Professor Watermelon has written two books, and Gillenwater has published four non-fiction books himself. Professor Watermelon is currently working on his next book, drawing inspiration from the “Orphan Annie” poem by James Whitcomb Riley.

“I always felt guilty for leaving Indiana because part of the scholarship was to keep educated people in Indiana,” Gillenwater said. “Once I moved back, I immediately knew that I wanted to get involved with the Community Foundation of Morgan County and help them with anything they ask me to do.”

Gillenwater is also active in local elementary schools and has assisted with different programs, such as the back to school drive for Churches in Mission.

“I am an incredible advocate for youth,” Gillenwater said. “I also think that when your community believes in you that its incredibly important to give back to the community, especially the youth in that community.”

Michelle Pointdexter, a 2015 Martinsville High School graduate, was one of two Lilly Scholars this year. She is currently attending Valparaiso University in northern Indiana to study International Service and Spanish.

“Valparaiso was my dream school and my dad told me if I did not get [the scholarship], we would find a way to put me through the first year, but I would have to transfer after that,” Pointdexter said. “To be able to go Valpo for all four years, and be debt free, is amazing.”

Valparaiso is the only college in Indiana that offers International Service as a major. Pointdexter said this is what will prepare her to work for an international humanitarian organization.

“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting it,” said Pointdexter. “I was hoping honestly, but I just worked really really hard my entire life at school and in my community. Hard work just pays off.”

Pointdexter has been active in her community including volunteering at her church, participating in trash pick up, and serving food on Thanksgiving Day at a local shelter. After graduation in 2020, she still plans to be involved in the local community.

“I always want to be involved in community service in some way,” Pointdexter said. “When I am in the states rather than abroad, I will continue my work here, helping in some way.”

Pointdexter said she is interested in working in Latin America, because she has studied Spanish for four years, and sponsors an Ecuadorian child through Compassionate International. She added that she can't wait to get started.

Thomas Janssen, a 2013 graduate of Martinsville High School, started his third year at this past fall where he is majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Computational Science.
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology

“Currently I am hoping to do some research in the field of mechanical engineering, but I am always up to whatever is more interesting,” Janssen said. “At this rate right now, I am looking for internships to get me a better lead into what I want to do in the future.”

When Janssen was looking for schools, Rose-Hulman became his first choice and Purdue his second. Due to Janssen's financial concerns, Purdue's assistance made it more appealing, but his family said they would do what they could to help him go to his first choice. Then, he received the scholarship and his dreams came to life.

“For me Rose Hulamn was my nook to fit into. It was small, very family orientated,” Janssen said. “It was everything I was looking for in a college. It was my first choice and Lilly made that happen. I have no regrets from being there the last two years and I look forward to the next two.”

Janssen has been involved with music and wants to give back through that medium.

The deadline for the 2015-2016 Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship is January 15, 2015. To learn more about the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship please visit this link.

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