Former Roommates Establish Scholarship

Alumni with student

308 Grace Street founders Ray Harris, David Harris, Jason Wible and Brian Carver meet their first scholarship recipient, Bryan Hooker, center.

From the December 2014 edition of Desktop News | Four College of Arts and Sciences alumni have established a foundation to provide scholarships for graduate students committed to public service. The 308 Grace Street Foundation is named in honor of three founders’ college apartment.

From 1993 to 1996, Jason Wible, Brian Carver and David Harris were roommates living in Apt. 349 at 308 Grace Street. Now, their shared space has become the namesake of a nonprofit scholarship program funded by the three College of Arts and Sciences alumni to be given to a student at The University of Alabama.

308 Grace Street was founded this year by the three alumni and Harris’s father Ray, also an alumnus of the College, and is in the process of qualifying as a nonprofit organization. Scholarships are awarded to a second-year graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in a public policy field. The group’s first scholarship was awarded to a UA student in 2014, Carver said.

“We want to support folks going into public service generally,” Carver said, “We each focus on areas we know. Jason, for more than a decade, has been in the energy industry. I am interested in open access to information, particularly in the government space with transparency, and David, who has a master’s degree in choral conducting and a doctorate in music, is involved in education. With the organization, we want to support people who want to operate in any area of public service.”

The organization plans to offer scholarships that are “enough to pay tuition and have enough left over for a small stipend,” Carver said. Wible had the idea for the foundation and said the scholarships will be around $15,000 to $20,000 depending on the student’s program of study.

Wible, who has worked for Schlumberger, Geoforce, Inc., and the U.S. Department of Energy, is currently pursuing a master’s degree at the University of Texas. After graduation, he plans to work for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, a government-run technology research and development agency.

“Coming back to graduate school, I’ve realized how much the cost of education has increased and how that has negatively affected students, especially students interested in public service,” Wible said. “They are significantly discouraged from participating in public life because they are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and public service jobs are not that high-paying. I want our very best students to be able to serve in the public sector. In the 1950s and 1960s, the best and brightest of Yale and Princeton did service and government work. That’s much harder to do today with student debt as crippling as it is.”

As University of Alabama alumni, they decided that their initial scholarship would be awarded to a UA student by Dr. Richard Fording, professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, which houses UA’s master’s degree in public policy. Through fundraising efforts and other investments, the group has raised enough money to expand 308 Grace Street’s contributions to the University of Texas in 2015 and, in 2016, to the University of California-Berkeley, where Carver works as an associate professor. The organization will continue to award a scholarship to a UA student each year.

“Something not realized in the public consciousness is how much innovation and technology is driven by government,” Wible said. “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the internet, global positioning systems, nuclear power, railways – all of these things had 40 years of the government investing in them before the private sector invested a dime. These are things that make our lives better, and we need smart people working on them.”

Students interested in the scholarship submit an application and essay explaining how they plan to change the world, Wible said.

“There are a lot of problems in the public sector right now,” Carver said. “We need a lot of people to dedicate themselves to address them, and it is extremely beneficial for students interested in public service to graduate without a lot of debt. These programs give people tools to analyze extremely complex issues. What we need in the public sector is a lot more sound analysis and a lot less partisan bickering. Hopefully, graduates of these programs can be voices of reason in a very argumentative landscape.”