Triple major Josh Sanders helps raise education endowment for Kenyan women

For just over two years, Honors College junior Josh Sanders has pushed himself to max out his full scholarship to Georgia State University.   He is majoring in accounting at GSU’s Robinson College of Business, then added finance and Spanish for a rare triple major. He has already accepted an offer of employment from Ernst & Young when he graduates in 2013.  On his 20th birthday this fall, he ran a marathon so he “could enter the third decade of life running.”

In early November, his push to optimize the GSU scholarship dollars invested in him paid dividends halfway around the world in the lives of women who have little funding for higher education. After his fellow accounting majors founded the Global Impact Project to fund scholarships for women in Kenya, Sanders promoted a higher level of commitment: an education endowment that would help more women well into the future. He showed his commitment by organizing the Pass the Torch 5K Race, which raised more than $7,500 to push the endowment just shy of its initial $50,000 goal. Money is a small measure of the project’s impact.

On the same day as the race, young women and their families in Kenya held an emotional thanksgiving service for the opportunity to attend college. “Thank you Georgia State University and its community at large,” Rachel Okune, who attends Mount Kenya University, wrote in a note prior to the race. “I couldn’t have made it without you.” The money will be invested through the GSU Finance Society’s Portfolio Management Team, whose students benefit from the experience of working with those funds (a faculty member serves as their chief investment officer). Sanders is currently working to make the Global Impact Project a 501c3 nonprofit with a board of Atlanta experts in accounting and finance. Sanders and his fellow volunteers plan to apply for corporate and foundation support for the Global Impact Project. To strengthen their case, they enlisted MBA students from Emory University, Josh Long and Olusheyi Lawoyin, to collect data measuring how well the project has worked.

“We wouldn’t have been able to organize this without Josh,” said Allison Jacobs, a former faculty member for the School of Accountancy who now serves as its director of student services.  “We’d never have done what we’ve done with the Global Impact Project in a billion years if he hadn’t taken it and run with it.”  The accounting students’ outreach to Kenya began after Jacobs visited that country on a personal trip to help set up a clinic. Jacobs met a young Kenyan who could not attend college because she lacked the $2,000 in tuition and fees. In that culture, families prefer to spend scarce funds only on sons.

“I came home with sadness – this really affected me,” said Jacobs.  She shared her experience with the members of Beta Alpha Psi, the national honorary organization for the brightest accounting students. They must maintain a minimum 3.4 GPA in their major (3.2 overall), put in community service hours and make charitable contributions. All of these actions must be precisely documented, which makes the group a de facto lab for building integrity and accountability.

“Could we help send one girl to college?” Jacobs asked the student group. They agreed, and came up with a motto: “There are no HOPE scholarships in Kenya.” Another member of the group, Donald Okech (M.P.Acct. 2010, MBA 2011), is from Kenya and provided additional personal connections to help the group. His sister Irene, a CPA who lives in Alpharetta, and mother, Judith, a registered nurse who had worked for the United Nations and CARE, operated a nonprofit to serve rural families in Kenya. Imbako Public Health reaches out primarily to women. “Public health is not just about going in and providing for people – it’s leaving something behind that others can build upon,” Irene Okech said. “Education is like planting trees to provide shade for the next generations.” Sanders got involved because he saw his unique skills making a big difference. “I like to take things and make them the best they can be,” he said.  Providing scholarships motivated him as well because he had seen how funding had changed his life. Growing up in a family of accountants, he had learned from a young age to appreciate the power of a dollar. His parents, Jeff and Brenda Sanders, had worked their way through college and told him he would have to pay his way too. They valued thrift and working hard even after becoming bank officers.   “We still have the couch that came with the single-wide trailer my parents bought when they got married. It’s brown tweed, and it looks like it belongs in a fire safety commercial,” he joked. He graduated valedictorian of South Forsyth High School in Cumming, with a 4.5625 GPA and 18 AP credits. Those credits meant that before his freshman class at GSU, Sanders was already almost halfway to an undergraduate degree.  He also had full funding through the Georgia State University Foundation, including the Presidential Scholarship, Pickett Riggs Scholarship and awards for accounting excellence. “I had funding for eight semesters, so I thought, ‘Why not pursue as much [education]as I can?” he said. That led to his triple major. He is on track to graduate in 2013 with his three degrees, and in May 2014 with an M.P.Acct. His scholarship funding provided a mirror for what is lacking for the Kenyan students, and gave him a moral obligation to help students who had no such resources. “Other people donated to support my GSU scholarships, so I thought, ‘Why not help other people?’” he said. “Josh realizes that in Kenya, students can do all the right things and still not afford university,” Jacobs said. “Students there are working as hard as he is, but they have nothing. All they need is a little opportunity, a little luck.” “In Kenya, many families still have the attitude that they want colleges to take their sons, but their girls will always be married,” Irene Okech said. “They don’t want to invest in the education of a female child.”

Thank you notes from scholarship recipients in Kenya hint at the future impact from the Global Impact Project. Doris Michoki, who goes to Moi University, wrote: “I also promise that after my graduation, I will go back to the society and support young people who want to better their lives, and hence promote the society.” For even greater educational impact, the goal-driven Sanders is shooting for a seven-figure endowment. “That’s part of the legacy I would like to have,” he said. “I would like to have a million dollars in that endowment, which would be big news for the School of Accountancy, Department of Finance and Robinson College of Business overall.”

―By Michelle Hiskey; contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424