The first five Vicki Palmer Scholars are reaping the benefits of a program established in honor of a long-term employee of Coca-Cola Enterprises and a 16-year member of Spelman’s board of trustees.
The Vicki R. Palmer Scholarship Program mirrors its namesake’s longtime commitment to helping Coca-Cola’s diversity and inclusion goals of recruiting, retaining and promoting minorities and women. Designated for all eligible students with academic promise, a commitment to community service, and a demonstrated financial need, the program provides students with a paid professional internship experience at Coca-Cola Enterprises. The scholars receive an annual scholarship award of $5,000 after the successful completion of their internship.
The support from the scholarship made the difference for several of the scholars registering for classes. “I still struggle with paying the balance on my tuition,” admitted Deaweh Benson, C’2012. “The Vicki Palmer Scholarship was the reason I was able to pay off my balance last semester.”
Students also benefitted from the internship aspect of the program, established August 2009 in honor of Palmer, a former executive vice president of financial services and administration at Coca-Cola who retired from the company after 25 years. “An internship gives the students a better sense of what the real world is like, and the company has an opportunity to observe their work ethic,” said Palmer. “This is real work and real projects that allow the company to see how they attack a problem, their follow through, and what kind of employees they would be.”
During the summer, the scholars gained a variety of experience interning in several departments, including Enterprise Project Management and Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability. They tackled diverse projects that ranged from diversity practices to implementing plans to reduce Coca-Cola’s carbon footprint.
Lauren Brown Jarvis, C’2012, appreciated learning the numerous facets of the business. “It’s a massive operation and even after 10 weeks I was still uncovering new pieces of the puzzle,” she said. Benson identified the route rides, which involved interns shadowing truck drivers and assisting with stocking vending machines, as a rewarding adventure that helped her brainstorm strategies to make frontline jobs easier.
Alysia Lewis, C’2011, recognizes the impact her internship will have on her future professional endeavors. “As an economics major you tend to lean toward financial services,” she said. “But my Coca-Cola experience has shown me the numerous career opportunities I can venture into with my degree post-graduation.”
Palmer set high expectations for the students at a dinner before the internship started, and she remained hands on, assisting them throughout their experience. “I told them ‘You are my babies and the bar is high, and I expect all of you to exceed the bar. They promised me they would not let me down and they didn’t,” said Palmer, who accompanied the scholars to their formal internship orientation with 95 other Coca-Cola interns. She also helped each with their capstone presentations, even calling in her former employees to provide the scholars with feedback.
The guidance the students received from Palmer during the program fostered a special connection between her and the scholars. “Having Mrs. Palmer as a mentor is completely invaluable,” said Brown Jarvis. “She really invested time in our progress and provided us with information to help us be successful professionally and academically.”
Palmer is excited about the potential of the scholars, some of whom will be addressing students at information sessions when Coca-Cola returns to Spelman on Feb. 9 to recruit for interns, full-time positions, and Palmer Scholars.
“I am so very proud of my first group of Palmer Scholars,” said Palmer, who gave each a Tiffany’s medallion inscribed with “Palmer Scholar 2010.” “In my heart, I know they are going to rule the world.” — Joyce E. Davis is the editor of Inside Spelman and associate director of Publications in the Office of Communications.