Ready, Willing, and Enabled

Houser Scholarship Rewards Working Smarter in Pursuit of Dreams

“We want to help kids succeed in college and, accordingly, in the future beyond college. We’re enabling them to do something that they otherwise might not be able to do,” says Greg Houser, who, along with his brother Peter, partnered with the Multnomah Athletic Foundation (MAF) in 2015 to launch the Houser Scholarship. It provides a $10,000 first-year award — potentially renewable for a second year — for Lincoln High School students to apply to tuition, fees, books, or technology at the two- or four-year college of their choice.

And sometimes, said college choice can change in the process of chasing the scholarship. Take Veronica Robinson, for example. When she first applied for this year’s Houser honors, she made a compelling case for attending Rice University in Houston, Texas. After reading an article Houser wrote for MAF’s website on school choice and doing her own research, she decided OSU was a much better fit for her.

“A big factor that contributed to me attending OSU was the financial aid package that I was offered because most of the scholarships I was awarded were academic, so they won’t be reduced by outside scholarships,” Robinson says. “Winning the Houser Scholarship has made such an impact in the way I look forward to my college experience; I used to be really nervous to balance work and finances with school, but this scholarship has made it so I can focus on studying what I’m passionate about.”

In honor of the new Lincoln High School, the Housers decided to award two scholarships this year, and the other one went to MAC member Sophia Miller, whose school of choice didn’t change during the interview process. Instead, Houser came to realize that her initial pick was the right one.

Houser says he did some research on Bates College after Miller expressed that she was “bound and determined to go there,” and discovered that despite its high cost, it’s also rated as one of the best small liberal arts colleges in the country. That it boasts both creative dance and highly acclaimed pre-med programs sealed the deal. “I really believe in a life-work balance, and so I believe in a life education balance, too,” he says. “Sophia can take dance as basically the analog to pre-med. I just thought that made so much sense.”

For Houser, it all comes down to enabling, which, like cholesterol, can be good or bad in his estimation. With so many moving parts in the process of applying to, being accepted by, and actually going to a particular school, the total cost of the college or university and how it is offset by a number of other factors has to be taken into consideration. These can range from financial aid to grants and scholarships to family contributions, and if it doesn’t all add up, it’s better to say so and look at tweaking the plan.

“The good enabling is where the young person has made a really smart, judicious choice of school, and by virtue of our scholarship and other financial support that they might garner, they don’t have to take on a whole lot of student debt,” Houser explains. “Accordingly, they’re on a pretty good path to achieving personal goals and dreams, and they’re not weighed down by all these financial obligations that can stop them from buying homes and so much more.”

Making Connections

Sophia Miller found her potential calling in an unlikely combination of places — a pediatric hospital and the world of dance. In the former, she discovered a fascination with kids and healing, and the latter taught her to never stop striving for improvement.

“I got to shadow at Randall Children’s Hospital, specifically with nurse practitioners, and it really got me thinking and talking about what I want to do and what I’m interested in. A lot of that is patient care and especially pediatrics, where you’re dealing with both parents and kids a lot. I definitely have a love for working with children.”

To earn her own money in high school, Miller solicited babysitting gigs by putting out a call on NextDoor to families in her neighborhood, and she says the resulting jobs only continued to grow her enthusiasm for youngsters. “Sometimes they’ll say things and it’s either the funniest comment, or I’m like, ‘Wow, you’re really smart now. When did you get so smart?’ The way that kids think and the things that they remember, it’s just really interesting.”

The same could be said of Miller. In addition to her appreciation of childlike wonder, she has an adult streak about a mile wide that lends her an air of unexpected wisdom. Far from taking the opportunities she’s been given in life for granted, she seems to appreciate every sacrifice made by her parents, grandparents, and others who’ve supported her, and in turn takes extremely seriously the responsibility of rewarding their faith.

“My grandma really set my mom up for success by instilling in her an appreciation for the opportunity of education. She didn’t take going to college for granted because she saw that it wasn’t something that came easy for a single mother,” Miller explains. “I think that’s super important. There’s a huge difference when you have your education handed to you versus when you’ve had to work really hard for it. It’s like skin in the game. Not only are you making a sacrifice, but also your parents are making a huge sacrifice. It pushed my mom and her brother to work hard in college, and I plan to do the same.”

Miller also attributes her constant need to work hard and improve to the sometimes tough lessons she learned dancing ballet. While she feels like tap and hip-hop movements came naturally to her, ballet initially posed a greater challenge, and one that ultimately hooked her.

“My ballet teacher was really harsh on me when I was eight and a half or nine, and she was the one who really got me into ballet. I was in a class with people who were four, five years older than me. One time in class when I felt like she was really harping on me, I just started crying, and she said, ‘I’m only hard on you because you’re good.’ I really took that to heart, and I started wanting to get corrected because I knew that was the only way I was going to get better.”

Miller feels fortunate still to be surrounded by people who continue to push her to be her best, from her mother and grandmothers to Lincoln High Business Teacher Ronald Waugh to Principal Peyton Chapman. “Ms. Chapman is always there for the students and what they want to do. If you have an idea, she’ll find a way to help you make it happen. I’ve had Mr. Waugh for four years now, and sometimes there are only four girls in a class of 20. He does such a good job of reaching out to us and keeping us motivated.”

Now, she’s excited to add MAF and the Houser family to that list. “I think it’s a lot bigger of an opportunity than I realized when I initially applied. Beyond the money and how helpful it is, I think there are a lot of connections I can grow from it.”

Secure Horizons

“Working with MAF has been a great experience. Everyone who was involved in the process was so kind, which made everything so much easier. When I pictured a panel interview, I envisioned a sort of interrogation, but everyone was really nice and personable, and just made it feel like I was having a casual conversation,” Robinson says.

That she felt safe in a potentially scary situation means the foundation’s goal of easing the struggles of ambitious student athletes was accomplished. It also speaks to Robinson’s own dreams of making greater security attainable for those who need it. She first became interested in cyber security while reading the dystopian novel Warcross, in which the main character is so knowledgeable about code that she’s able to look at ones and zeros and find bugs. Although Robinson now says she knows that’s not possible, she remembers wanting badly to be able to interact with technology in that way, and that’s when she knew she wanted to go into computer science.

“When I was looking for careers I could potentially be interested in, cyber security really stood out to me because it seems to be a great way to directly help people through something I’m passionate about,” she says. “After moving to Portland and seeing the positive impacts that small businesses have on our city, I decided I wanted to focus specifically on providing cyber security for small businesses because they’re less than half as likely as large corporations to have cyber security plans. If they’re attacked, there’s a 60% chance they’ll go out of business.”

Robinson grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and her family moved to Portland in September 2019. Because her mom still has student debt that impacts their financial situation, Robinson is keenly aware of the fact that students can work hard all through college to better themselves and still graduate with significant obstacles to freely pursuing the professional and personal lives they covet.

“At Lincoln High School, I’ve found a sense of community that’s helped push me forward to achieve my goals and shape me into who I am today,” she says. She’s particularly active in the school’s culinary community, and with the inspiration of teacher Melanie Hammericksen, aka Chef Hammer, Robinson designed an Indigenous Foods Unit for Lincoln’s culinary program, allowing her to bring together two communities that she really cares about, her high school and her Ojibwe heritage.

Robinson also likes to volunteer and has organized opportunities for culinary students to prepare and serve meals for the guests of Ronald McDonald House, who traveled from all corners of Oregon and southwest Washington to seek care for their critically ill loved ones. Whether it’s competing on the swim or snowboarding teams, or in speech or debate, Robinson keeps discovering communities inside and outside Lincoln that inspire her to be her best self, and she hopes to continue this in college and beyond.

“I’m also incredibly excited to become a part of the community of Houser scholars, because everyone I’ve met so far through the scholarship has been great, and I’m looking forward to meeting more amazing people.”

New Opportunities

The saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Students such as Robinson and Miller have worked incredibly hard to emerge from high school in the strongest possible position for their next steps into adulthood and hopefully successful lives. So, when they join other recipients of the Houser scholarship at the holiday lunch generally thrown by at least one of their two benefactors, they have paid for it in blood, sweat, and tears.

“Everybody goes through traumas, failures, and missteps, so I don’t think that there’s any illusion that any of these kids are immune from that, and I think they’re willing to talk about both their successes and challenges,” Houser says of the robust conversations that flow when the group gathers. “Their demeanor shows that they’ve got this appreciation for being part of this group, of this community. They’re very motivated, friendly, caring kids, and great communicators. That’s the beauty of it, that there’s this wealth of information that sets them up to maybe not have to go through some of the bad things and to assist them in reaching for the good things.”

“The Houser Scholarship has not only supported deserving students to be able to attend the college of their choice; it has created a community of learners who stay connected to support each other in their post- Lincoln exploration and growth in their fields of study,” principal Chapman adds. “One of my favorite parts of the scholarship is the annual Houser scholars luncheon hosted by Greg and MAF Executive Director Lisa Bendt. I have watched not only the scholarship but the continued mentorship change and improve lives. We at LHS are incredibly grateful for this scholarship program.”

Bendt says she’s thankful for the opportunity to administer scholarships such as this one and, in the process, provide opportunities for so many students. She also invites other would-be philanthropists in the community who might be considering funding future dreams for students to reach out to the foundation if they’d like to discuss what’s possible and how MAF might help.

Houser, who previously served as president of MAF’s board — in addition to an array of other prominent organizations ranging from Meals on Wheels to University of Oregon’s College of Business — appreciates what MAF brings to the table in terms of the ease of administering the scholarship and offering diverse points of view.

“MAF brings in people from their side and the discussions we have about applicants are great because people discern different things and have varying perspectives. We get this amazing breadth of analysis and interpretation. From the beginning, it’s made so much sense to take advantage of that knowledge and partner with MAF to make these scholarships happen,” Houser says.

It all started as an idea forged on the fields and in the classrooms of Lincoln, not to mention working with the likes of Joe Loprinzi in MAC’s gyms. “Creating this scholarship started with our views about what is really formative for a young person in terms of building their character and their value system. That led to our criteria of academics, athletic participation, leadership, service to others or volunteerism, and finally need,” he adds.

“I was always impressed by the fact that we were encouraged to be aspirational at Lincoln. We were encouraged towards excellence, and people were recognized for it,” he says. “Everything that we’ve done with our scholarships is to encourage these open-minded, motivated young people to explore avenues that extend their horizons.”

Written by Jake Ten Pas.

Originally published in the June 2023 issue of The Winged M Magazine.