Wine Industry Scholarship Program Provides Opportunities for First-Generation Students

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation and Sonoma State University (SSU) are partnering to support an innovative scholarship program focused on first-generation, low-income students whose families are connected to the wine industry. SSU is located in the heart of California’s premier wine region and serves approximately 9,300 students annually. Approximately 30 percent of SSU students are first-generation, low-income, or from underserved populations. Given the location of our campus, many of these students have family members employed by wineries.

Students in the Summer Bridge orientation program pose for a photo in front of the Wine Spectator Learning Center at Sonoma State University. SSU hosts Summer Bridge for first-generation low-income students in the summer prior to their first year on campus.

Given the wine industry’s interest in supporting the children of employees— as well as educating the future workforce —SSU’s Wine Business Institute started the Wine Industry Scholarship Program (WISP) in 2016. WISP is designed to attract financial support for first-generation, low-income students who have family ties to the wine industry. WISP scholarship recipients do not need to be pursing wine business as a major: they simply need to have a family member who is employed in the wine industry, for example a vineyard worker or cellar staff member.

The Wine Industry Scholarship Program has expanded to attract financial support for SSU’s academic and career services for first-generation, low-income students. The additional advisors and programs created by WISP now serve nearly 2,000 students each year, in addition to the students who receive WISP scholarships.

WISP began as a program offering students $2,500 scholarships that are renewable for up to four years ($10,000 total). Thanks to the generosity of SSU’s winery partners, SSU quickly secured commitments from some of the industry’s largest names, including Korbel, Rodney Strong, and Wine.com. SSU’s first cohort of WISP scholars in 2017 featured 15 students, with 27 WISP scholarships awarded in 2018 and an additional 27 in 2019. To date, SSU has awarded WISP scholarships to 69 students for a total of nearly $700,000 in scholarship support in just three years!

The guidance and financial support of the Johnson Scholarship Foundation (JSF) has inspired SSU to grow its ambitions for how the campus can assist first-generation, low-income students. SSU is currently laying the groundwork for a much larger fundraising effort that will create a WISP scholarship endowment and bring in significant additional funds to enhance our overall support for the students who need it most.

SSU is grateful to the Johnson Scholarship Foundation for its commitment to provide 10 WISP scholarship matching gifts in 2020 and 2021. JSF is also providing a match commitment for WISP endowment gifts in subsequent years. SSU anticipates another remarkable program transformation as a result of this new fundraising effort, on the scale of the one that has taken place in the last two years. SSU looks forward to securing scholarship funds and program support that will benefit SSU students for generations to come.

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