KET is a proud participant in American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative, made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, to address the dropout crisis and improve education from early childhood to career. As part of this initiative, KET is spotlighting American Graduate Champions – mentors who devote their time, skills and resources to make sure young people  succeed. This profile is part of a series — created by KET and presented exclusively via Insider Louisville — highlighting Louisville residents who are making a difference in our community.

By Tom Martin | KET

Making it possible for young people to realize their potential and succeed in life can be inspiring. Just ask Henry Heuser Jr. “I’ve seen so visibly what scholarships do, and mean to students, and I’m just addicted to this whole process.” 

Heuser — a former U.S. Navy Officer and great-grandson of the founder of the Henry Vogt Machine Company — has committed to expanding educational access and affordability. His awareness began when Heuser attended a duPont Manual High School science awards program and learned that many of the leading scholars weren’t able to attend college because of lack of resources.   

Heuser, impassioned by the need, encouraged his father to do something about scholarships. “Before he died in 1999, he was able to transfer some of his taxable assets into a scholarship through the Community Foundation of Louisville, and that then created a $10,000 award, one for each high school in the Jefferson County Public School system that had advanced placement curriculum.”

That legacy continues today as this year 14 outstanding JCPS seniors will receive a 2016 Vogt Achievement Scholarship. One of those recipients, Jacob Thomas, graduating senior from Pleasure Ridge Park High School, said, “My family paying for college is out of the question. I’ve been concerned about my finances until I received this scholarship.” A total of 249 students have been awarded $2.49 million to date.

Listing Heuser’s own community engagement reveals involvement in a multitude of organizations ranging from Trees Inc. to serving on the boards of the Jefferson County Public Education Foundation, the Louisville Free Public Library Foundation, and the Rotary Club of Louisville. 

It was while attending a district Rotary conference as the incoming president that Heuser was introduced to a new program that expanded opportunities to make “college going” possible for more students. “The president-elect of the Paducah Rotary Club reported that what they were doing as a club project was a ‘Paducah Promise’ scholarship to help the lowest performing high schools attain college admission for students who were graduating. That just set off a light bulb.”

Heuser brought the concept home to Louisville, and led the fundraising efforts to establish the Rotary Club of Louisville Promise Scholarship program.  “Each freshman class at Western High School and Iroquois High School signs a commitment that they intend to go to college and graduate. The opportunity for a graduating senior who can attain a 2.5 or better graduating average, 90 percent attendance and good citizenship, is to get an associate degree free at Jefferson Community and Technical College. If they choose to go on to the University of Louisville and are qualified, they will have a $10,000 additional scholarship toward a baccalaureate degree.”

Heuser recognizes, however, that it’s not enough to provide the money it takes to cover tuition, books, room and board. He calls on fellow business leaders to volunteer and provide career guidance. “We need adult involvement with these kids because in most cases they’re first-generation students. So it’s a totally new experience, and we’d like to have professional business men and women help them understand why careers are so important to them and their families.”

“Our goal is to get every kid who wants to graduate from high school to go to college and to get a degree. It’s part of Louisville’s 55K program. By 2020, this community needs 55,000 additional college degrees to be competitive with peer cities in the nation,” Heuser noted. 

He hopes people will get involved, at all levels. “I can’t think of anything more important in philanthropic interest than doing this,” says the driving force behind opening doors of higher education to Louisville high school students.

KET is part of public media’s American Graduate Initiative, spotlighting and supporting community-based solutions that address the dropout crisis and improve education from early childhood to career.

Check out past American Graduate profiles on GE team leader Howard Holloman, JCPS family resource officerAnnie Haigler, power company manager Rick King, ArtsReach director Julia Youngblood, and ACE Program volunteers Greg Buccola and Daren Thompson.