Daniel Dickerson ’99 believes in second chances. Today, he is a successful businessman and owner of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in North Charleston, South Carolina, but his journey to get there was long and winding.
After a few years of making some poor choices in his early twenties, Dickerson decided to go back to school. He enrolled at Trident Technical College and after two years, transferred to the College of Charleston. He was struggling to balance school and work at that stage of his life and credits mentors like Sue Sommer-Kresse, former dean of Admissions, for encouraging him to believe in himself – advice he took to heart.
“Daniel has not forgotten that sometimes students need a helping hand, a positive word, and, yes, scholarship support to feel confident and to move forward to complete their degrees,” says Sommer-Kresse, who nominated Dickerson to serve as a board member for the School of Professional Studies. “Daniel has become a successful business leader with a big heart.”
Dickerson knew he was not alone in his nontraditional approach to education and wanted to “pay forward” the lessons he learned with a scholarship for students in the College’s School of Professional Studies (SPS) who are trying to balance family, work and continuing their education.
“A lot of these students don’t believe in themselves and need extra support,” says Dickerson. “The opportunity to provide that support is what makes me so passionate about this scholarship.”
At an SPS award ceremony in December 2019, student Kristen Stone received the first Chick-fil-A scholarship, which enabled her to pay her entire tuition for the semester. The Chick-fil-A Scholarship is available to students in the Bachelor of Professional Studies program or those who are pre-Bachelor of Professional Studies students. Recipients must have a 3.0 GPA or higher and have demonstrated financial need.
“I had never received anything like that before. I was utterly shocked,” she says. “My mom was so mad that I didn’t invite her to come to the ceremony, but I told her I had no idea that I was getting an award!”
Stone is very close to her family. Her father died unexpectedly of a heart attack when she was in the eighth grade, and she struggled to cope with his death for many years. She made it through three years of college at Coastal Carolina University before she dropped out and started working in the food and beverage industry in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Over time, her hard work and dedication resulted in one promotion after another, and soon, she was managing a restaurant.
In 2017, Stone was offered a “dream job” managing a hotel restaurant in San Francisco, California. Excited about the opportunity, she quit her job, packed her bags and paid off her lease. Two days before she was going to move, her older brother died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack.
“There was no way I could leave my family,” she says.
Losing her brother was a real wake up call. Suddenly, Stone realized that life was short and decided that it was time to start applying herself.
“I felt like I had disappointed my family and knew that I could only go so far without a degree,” Stone says. “I wanted to make my mom proud and I owed it to myself to finish what I started.”
After enrolling in classes at Trident Tech in 2018, Stone transferred to the School of Professional Studies at the College. She will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Professional Studies (BPS) with a concentration in hospitality operations and management.
“I still have so much to learn in the hospitality industry, which is always evolving and changing,” says Stone. “I’ll be a life-long learner.”
Stone continues to push herself as the manager of the Swamp Fox restaurant in the Francis Marion hotel in downtown Charleston. She hopes to be accepted into the College’s MBA program for the fall 2020 semester.
“Kristen is a bright and ambitious student. She has done extremely well in the BPS program and has great plans for her life,” says Godfrey A. Gibbison, dean of the School of Professional Studies. “I am overjoyed that we could support her to complete her degree through our partnership with Daniel and Chick-fil-A.”
“This experience has taught me that no matter how old you are or how much you’ve been through, you are capable of going back to school,” says Stone, smiling. “And one day, I’ll get the job of my dreams.”