For Rayelle Anderson, this is personal.
In fact, her career was borne out of the desire to pay forward the support she received as a young student. Sitting in the Edminster Student Union Building at North Idaho College, she speaks over the whistle and grind of an espresso machine, sharing about major projects the NIC Foundation has completed in its first 40 years to help generations of Inland Northwest students succeed.
“The heart of what the NIC Foundation does makes my heart sing,” she says. “Education and training are great equalizers for the students we support, no matter their background. Through the affordable, accessible, quality experience we help provide, they get to elevate themselves – not just to live, but to thrive.”
Her heart is singing, in part, because of her own story. As a teenager from a rural setting (St. Maries, Idaho) she first set foot on NIC’s campus for a regional business competition. At the event’s awards ceremony, she learned she had won an NIC Foundation scholarship. Even in that moment, she wondered: who paid for that gift?
“In my family, nobody had ever finished high school or gone to college,” she says, remembering how it felt to know she was going to change that, in part because of the generosity of donors who didn’t even know her.
Rayelle worked throughout her education, but that partial scholarship she received helped make college a reality. After NIC, she went on for a BA in business and marketing, and began her career. But in 1992, when she saw that the NIC Foundation had posted its first paid staff position, she applied immediately. Over 25 years later, she’s still hard at work, now as Executive Director. NIC and its foundation have bloomed into an incredible force, not only for the region’s students, but for employers who benefit from new generations of well-prepared graduates.
Mark Fisher, who volunteers as the Foundation’s Board President, experienced a similar turning point early in his life.
“I was attending a community college in California,” he remembers. “And it changed my course completely. I hadn’t been a great student growing up, but in particular I remember two teachers: my math and anatomy instructors. In their classes, I learned how to be diligent and accurate in my work.”
Those skills served Mark well – he now owns Advanced Benefits, a successful health insurance consulting firm in Coeur d’Alene with 15 employees. He has put in a lot of hard work, but he is quick to point to his quality experience in a setting like NIC as the boost he needed. For that reason, he’s spent a decade on the NIC Foundation board, helping spread the message that NIC is truly investing in students’ dreams.
“That’s what we work on every day,” says Rayelle. “We love giving individual students scholarships, but we’re always looking at the big picture, too – the quality level of what they experience here. So that means we’re also working to offer our students the best possible instruction, equipment, and facilities.”
In that vein, the NIC Foundation has been very busy. Most recently, they have rallied community support through a major “Building the Future” campaign to complete the Parker Technical Education Center in 2016. In a new, state-of-the-art facility, students are gaining the exact skills and training they need to prepare them for the high-demand, high-wage jobs of the present and future, right here in the Inland Northwest. NIC knows it is meeting that need because the project is deeply collaborative with the local business community.
“INB in particular jumped on board early with our Building the Future campaign,” Rayelle says. “They have been such a supportive community partner.”
For Rayelle and her staff – and for Mark and countless other volunteers, partners, and donors – it all comes down to stories of students who benefit from the Foundation’s work. Students like Jennifer, a mother of two boys who recently graduated from NIC’s Aerospace Center and now works for Timberline Helicopters in Sandpoint [watch the short film about Jennifer’s experience]. Or students like Paul, a current engineering student who is poised for an excellent career ahead. Or Emily, the Early Childhood Education student who wants to impact preschoolers and their families in the area. And then there’s Lydia, an NIC Foundation scholarship recipient currently working toward her goal to be a college academic advisor, so she can help students fulfill their dreams.
Sound familiar? Lydia’s story is a 2018 version of what Rayelle was feeling back in 1992. Having received the gift of a quality education, she wants to help extend that gift to a future full of students – and the Inland Northwest as a whole benefits from their passionate work.