Above: Sue Sommer-Kresse, Daniel and Marie Dickerson, and Kameelah Martin during a press conference announcing the expanded Chick-fil-A Graduate Leadership Scholarship. (Photo by Catie Cleveland)

Waiting tables for a couple of years after high school made Daniel Dickerson ’99 realize the importance of getting an education. His process of going to college included a lot of support. He credits Sue Sommer-Kresse, former College of Charleston dean of admissions (among numerous other roles), with his coming to CofC, even though, he says, he probably didn’t deserve it. He’s also grateful to former French professor Abdulla Atif Attafi, who helped him find sources of financial support.

The French and international business double major not only received a great education at the College, he also met the love of his life when he came across a group of lost students on the corner of St. Philip and George streets.

“I could tell they were French because they were wearing scarves despite the sweltering August heat,” says Daniel, who had just returned from a semester in France. One of the students in particular, Marie Allain ’99, a business administration major, caught his eye.

“I courted Marie for the next two years,” says Daniel. “Because of her, I became more serious about education and life.”

Today, Daniel is a successful businessman and owner of a Chick-fil-A restaurant in North Charleston and Marie is executive vice president of business development and marketing for the job search app ExtraHourz.

In the spirit of paying it forward, the Dickersons established the Chick-fil-A Scholarship in 2019 in the former School of Professional Studies. This year, they created the Chick-fil-A Graduate Leadership Scholarship and expanded their commitment to support two students each academic year, with preference given to a nontraditional student and an international student.

Their support of the Graduate School stems from how, as a nontraditional student, Daniel witnessed older students struggle to balance family, school and finances. The international student preference is a nod to Marie, who came to the College from France.

“If we are serious about education, then we – both philanthropists and the government – need to invest in the future,” says Daniel, who hopes more people will help support the Graduate School.

Kameelah Martin, dean of the Graduate School, agrees. “The Chick-fil-A scholarship is one of very few funding sources for our graduate students. The Graduate School simply does not have the breadth of scholarship opportunities as our undergraduates.”

“Graduate school is demanding in terms of research and studies, so it’s much more challenging to hold a job,” adds Daniel. “Plus, they are often already in debt from their undergraduate education. Our goal is to help reduce their financial burden and keep them on track.”

It’s a gesture that Martin says will undoubtedly make the pathway to earning a graduate degree more accessible.

“The Dickersons are making an important impact on students with demonstrated financial need and who, otherwise, might not be able to matriculate into our graduate programs,” says Martin. “They’ve doubled their gift allowing us to award two students next academic year. The Dickersons’ preference to support international students is particularly key as they are not eligible for federal financial aid and rely on philanthropic gifts to attend the College.”

Rendon Dupaquier, the 2022-23 recipient of the Chick-fil-A Graduate Leadership Scholarship who is studying for a master’s degree in mathematical sciences with a focus on pure math, sums up the value of the scholarship perfectly. “I am – without a doubt – incredibly appreciative of the support. If a little goes a long way, I’m thankful for being given a lot. I like their chicken and their money.”