Erin Talbot loves seeing students’ hard work come to fruition.
As the Awards and Alumni Manager for DRDFS, Erin oversees the awarding of over $600,000 in scholarships to the graduating high school senior class each year. This year, she’s in charge of issuing scholarship funds to more than 320 students — the most recipients DRDFS has seen since its inception.
As someone who has been with DRDFS for the entirety of her professional career, Erin has had the pleasure of witnessing the scholarship process come full circle. Many of the former high school students she helped award DRDFS scholarships to are now graduating from their chosen post-secondary programs, whether it be from colleges, universities, or trade apprenticeships. Erin has experienced first-hand how scholarships and academic support can alter the trajectory of a student’s life.
“I’ve been with DRDFS long enough now to see a lot of our students graduate from college,” she said. “Seeing that transformation, that growth over time, has been super rewarding and really exciting. Now, watching them start their careers, it’s just been fantastic.”
Initially drawn to teaching, Erin set her sights on pursuing a degree in secondary education. But after some reflection, she realized her true calling was creating opportunities for students beyond the classroom. This led her to a degree in Public, Nonprofit, and Health Administration from Grand Valley State University, and since 2017, a role with DRDFS
“We can directly see the benefits of our organization at work,” she said. “The scholarship dollars, the alumni support, and all of the preparation students receive — we do it to enable them to reach their goals.”
But Erin’s role doesn’t end at disbursing DRDFS scholarship funds. Students need help with the array of research, processes, and administration work that comes with scholarships, such as filling out and filing all necessary paperwork, planning how to use funds, and making sure their next institution actually receives the payment toward the student’s tuition.
Erin also excels at helping students overcome new challenges and changes that often come with attending post-secondary school, such as being away from home and family. She checks in with alumni regularly, and recently helped one of them find an apartment in an area near their school. She’s also helped former DRDFS scholarship recipients find their path after college, such as applying for grad school or jobs that align with their long-term goals.
Not everyone is interested in attending college right after graduating high school, so the DRDFS team helps these students find alternatives. DRDFS scholarship funds aren’t exclusively for students pursuing a degree from a traditional four-year university — Erin has connected countless students to trade schools and community colleges that allow them to zero in on a career in a matter of months, not years. Her responsibilities also involve ensuring students are aware their DRDFS scholarship funds don’t need to be used immediately upon receiving an award — the money can be spread out over multiple years, or deferred in the case of students who want to take a gap year between high school and college.
“All of our students are on a very unique path individually,” she said. “Supporting them, in whatever way that may look like, is our top priority.”
Erin’s dedication to empowering students who otherwise may not pursue an education after high school is the embodiment of DRDFS’ mission as a whole. By turning her passion into purpose, Erin continues to change the lives of a remarkable number of students — but it’s worth noting that they’ve made a mark on her, too.
“Not only are our students’ lives changed throughout the program, but the staff is also incredibly impacted through working with them and hearing their inspirational stories,” she said. “Watching them fulfill their dreams of being a first-generation college graduate or a first-generation high school graduate has been so rewarding. Experiencing their successes and being able to be alongside them during their different journeys is such a privilege.”