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1/11/2018 11:42:00 AM
Back home again: Some Lilly Scholars return to community to build careers
OOLITIC — Teacher Kristen McDonald advises students during a math class at Oolitic Junior High School on Tuesday afternoon. McDonald was selected as a Lawrence County Lilly Scholar while a senior at Bedford North Lawrence High School in 2009. Staff photo by Garet Cobb
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OOLITIC — Teacher Kristen McDonald advises students during a math class at Oolitic Junior High School on Tuesday afternoon. McDonald was selected as a Lawrence County Lilly Scholar while a senior at Bedford North Lawrence High School in 2009. Staff photo by Garet Cobb

Roger Moon, Times-Mail

In reality, the purpose of the Lilly Endowment Community Scholarship Program doesn’t specifically point to often-expressed concerns over the years that Indiana’s brightest young people, in too many instances, are leaving the state to seek careers.

But no one can argue that there is much that can be gained when someone grows up in a community and then chooses to remain there as an adult and contribute in meaningful ways.

In the Hoosier state, where the Lilly Scholarships Program was established 20 years ago to, according to the Lilly Endowment “raise the level of educational attainment,” communities are benefiting by having some of those students come back home. Lawrence County is among those communities.

Annie Bullock is one of 37 from Lawrence County who received the coveted Lilly award. It meant a full-tuition scholarship to a four-year accredited public or private nonprofit college or university in Indiana. She is one of about half a dozen of the county’s Lilly Scholars who have returned to Lawrence County or a surrounding county to build a career.

“It has been an amazing opportunity to get to know my county through new eyes, to support such a wide variety of amazing people and programs and to help build a better community,” Bullock said. She works as a contractor with Bowhead Professional Services in support of the Technology Transfer Office at Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division.

Bullock now is a board member for the Lawrence County Community Foundation, through which the Lilly Scholarship is awarded annually. The program is administered by Independent Colleges of Indiana.

Hope Flores, executive director of LCCF, said of Bullock, “She is very dedicated. We really appreciate her because she does bring it back full circle, not only having received the scholarship, but also in now giving back to the community.”

Bullock graduated from Bedford North Lawrence High School in 2006.

Another Lilly Scholar who has returned to the community to work is Kristen Hodge McDonald, who graduated from BNL in 2009 and is an eighth-grade math teacher at Oolitic Middle School. She worked initially in what she called an urban area, but said she’s happy to be back home. “I truly understand how much I love the small-town feel where the teachers can all work together to help our students and actually know the students and their families,” she wrote in an email.

For 2005 BNL graduate Paul Spreen, being in a career close to home meant more than finding an opportunity: It meant creating one. After graduating from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, where he studied mechanical engineering, Spreen worked as a process engineer at Metal Technologies, a high-volume manufacturing facility in Bloomfield. But, after five years, he left there and started his own company, Even Automation, an industrial automation and controls engineering business operating in Bloomington. Four engineers, including Spreen, work for the company, which began in 2015.

Spreen said, “The willingness to jump into things head first, get your hands dirty, maybe get in a little over your head and then absolutely work your tail off will always provide opportunities that you did not see coming. Sheer tenacity itself will take you very far.”

As for the decision to start a business in southern Indiana, Spreen wrote in an email, “For me, it was about staying close to my family.” He added, “There are obvious benefits to starting a business in an area you know, but you also get a feeling that the community pulls for you.”

Another of Lawrence County’s Lilly Scholars, 2013 BNL graduate J.T. Ernst, is among those working for Spreen. Spreen wrote in email correspondence with the Times-Mail, “J.T. was the same age as my youngest brother and played on the football team at BNL. I knew that he had won the Lilly and was graduating from Rose-Hulman just as I did. I know the kind of work ethic and attitude it takes to accomplish these goals so I knew that he would be someone that I would enjoy working with. We … had an informal interview where he did not disappoint, and I offered him a job on the spot. … Since he started, he has exceeded expectations and I look for him to quickly exceed my skill level.”

Information provided by Mary Dickerson, director of programs for Independent Colleges of Indiana, describes the purpose of the Lilly Scholarship program as being, in part, “to encourage and support the efforts of current and past Lilly Endowment Community Scholars to engage with each other and with Indiana business, governmental, educational, nonprofit and civic leaders to improve the quality of life in Indiana generally and in local communities throughout the state.”

Flores said, “I would like to see more of our scholarship recipients remember their community when they are giving, because it’s the place that helped them to get where they are today, whether it’s in the community or in the state.”

Copyright 2018,, Bedford, IN.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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