Scholarship supports local students

Matthew Bannister, first vice president, marketing and corporate responsibility for PeoplesBank, meets Fabiana Rodriguez ’20, the recipient of a new Western Massachusetts scholarship. 

PeoplesBank has made the inaugural contribution to a scholarship fund to help local students attend Mount Holyoke College.

The bank’s $10,000 contribution to the Western Massachusetts Scholarship Fund will give the College additional resources to provide assistance to students from Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.

Holyoke resident and South Hadley High School graduate Fabiana Rodriguez ’20 is the first beneficiary of the annual contribution. The senior is looking forward to finishing her degree in psychology and education, completing her teaching licensure practicum, and looking for an elementary-school teaching position in the area. The bank’s commitment was made earlier in the school year.

PeoplesBank wanted to alter its corporate gifting by supporting the fund. 

“Other scholarships that we end up offering go to business or accounting majors because it’s a pipeline to our labor force,” said Matthew Bannister, first vice president, marketing and corporate responsibility for PeoplesBank. “That wasn’t a criterion at all for this support — we wanted the College to just find someone from the area worthy and fabulous.”

Rodriguez meets both measures for the scholarship. One of six children, she initially didn’t think she could afford to attend Mount Holyoke. “I worked so hard in high school and then my parents weren’t able to contribute to my education. My guidance counselor suggested I apply. I said, ‘No, no, no, I can’t do Mount Holyoke.’ And she said, ’Just try it.’”

Seventy-three percent of Mount Holyoke College’s students receive financial aid from the College, which is working to develop more support from local businesses for local students. Typically, 6% of Mount Holyoke students come from Hampshire, Hampden and Franklin counties, while nearly 19% come from the commonwealth. 

“It’s great to help anybody, whether they’re just starting out or getting to the finish line,” said Bannister. “We do this for the benefit of the community.” 

Rodriguez completed her student teaching this semester in a third grade class at Crocker Farm Elementary School in Amherst. 

When Massachusetts public schools closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, she went on to work on other projects to satisfy her student teaching requirements, according to Sarah Frenette, the director of Early Childhood and Elementary Licensure Programs.

Frenette had high praise for the senior, saying, “Fabiana is a delightful student, teacher-candidate and human being.”

After graduation, Rodriguez plans on looking for a teaching position in Chicopee, Holyoke or Springfield. 

“I’m going to teach for a little and then figure out what I want to continue my education in and go from there,” she said. “I love second, third, fourth graders because they’re little people, you can hold actual conversations with them.”

Bannister said he was pleased PeoplesBank was helping to fund a teacher who was going to stay in the community. 

“So many people come to Mount Holyoke and then leave the area,” he said. ”We want to make sure that people stay and make the Pioneer Valley a great place to live and a great place to work. We like to see the residents of the area do well and then stay here and succeed.”