Kareem Downer: Overcoming Disability with Scholarship Help

The Bennett A. Brown Scholarship helped Kareem Downer achieve a degree from the Georgia State University Cecil B. Day School of Hospitality Administration. The funding covered the majority of Downer’s tuition and school expenses as he prepared for a career in Atlanta’s hospitality industry.

Today, Downer works as a special events planner with the Atlanta Botanical Garden,  as well as with events at Loews Hotels and the Georgia Aquarium. His career goal is to devote himself to a workplace that is positive and will see growth from his leadership skills.

Brown was a longtime supporter of GSU and served on the GSU Foundation board for six years. When Brown died in 1997 at age 68, his obituary in the New York Times described him as “a captain of Southern banking who navigated through the financial shoals of bad real estate loans and interstate mergers.”

In 2001, he was honored with the naming of the Bennett A. Brown Commerce Building, which today is home to classrooms and offices, including the Day’s School’s Culinary Learning Center, which includes a kitchen for courses that include a food lab component. His scholarship benefits a GSU student with a language-based learning disability.

In an interview, Downer shared what he learned in the scholarship application process and what the funding means to him.

Describe your scholarship.

The Bennett A. Brown Scholarship is offered through the Margaret A. Staton Office of Disability Services. To apply, I needed two or more recommendations and an essay explaining what it’s like to be in school and what challenges I have had in school. I submitted my essay, which talked about how I persisted in meeting my goals, and financial needs associated with being an out-of-state student.

What do you think set your essay apart from other applicants?

The amount of student involvement that I listed in my essay, the quality of my references, and my background. [I] highlighted how I entered into the university and demonstrated that I was determined to meet my goals. I came from a single- parent household, I struggled a lot in school and overcame those obstacles.

What would you recommend to other students who are starting to apply?

Maintain relationships with people who can give you good recommendation letters. Practice time management. Make sure someone reviews your application. Find niche scholarships that cater to you. Go above and beyond in your essay and tell the judges what you have done specifically that makes you different from others students.

What made you decide to major in hospitality?

When I was growing up, I loved traveling and visiting hotels. When I first started taking classes in my major, I didn’t have any experience in hospitality. I would recommend that anyone interested in hospitality get involved in something related to it before they make their decision. Luckily, it was something I enjoyed.

Why research before entering the industry?

I think it takes a special type of person to do hospitality. It’s not as super glamorous as people think and if someone has that conception, research would be a good way for them to get their feet wet before they invest years into the career. If it ends up being a good fit, I think that it would be something they should pursue because they would love it. You have to be good with people, willing to work long hours and receive gratification from doing a good job.

Do you feel like winning this scholarship gave you some confidence in your ability to finish school and meet your career goals?

Yes, I think it did. I think having some financial backing by someone who isn’t a family member demonstrates that someone sees you have potential. I recommend other students try it too.

—By the Scholarship Resource Center

Aug. 27, 2012