First benefit event for ‘Young Leaders & Dreamers Scholarship’ Saturday in Meeker

MHS alumnae Meg Nieslanik (right) visits the ‘morgue’ at The New York Times as part of her job with The School of the New York Times. Nieslanik is creating a scholarship and mentoring program to help future Meeker graduates navigate the path from high school to college and career. The first fundraising event is this Saturday at Holliday’s Bar & Grill in Meeker at 7 p.m. courtesy photo

MEEKER | “I wanted to be an attorney my whole life,” said Class of 2009 Meeker High School alumnae Meg Nieslanik about her life plans prior to graduation. Like so many others, her course changed dramatically during her college experience. She started with a degree from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., followed by a master’s degree from New York University in higher education and student affairs. She went from wanting to become a collegiate-level athletic director to working for the School of the New York Times. During that journey she worked for the School of American Ballet, which trains dancers for the New York City Ballet.
“I kind of didn’t know anything about ballet,” she said. “I’m now a huge ballet fan.”
In 2016 she went to work as an executive personal assistant at Cadre, a real estate investment firm whose founder, Ryan Williams, was named in Forbes “30 under 30” list. Jared Kushner is a co-owner of the firm.
“I was thrown into this very crazy world,” she said. A few months later she determined that world wasn’t for her. She quit “in a very millennial way” in Nov. 2016. After two months of job-hunting, she got a job at The School of the New York Times which provides opportunities for pre-college students to come to New York City and study with The New York Times.
“I think my job title has changed about three times in a year,” she said. Entering her third year with the program, her work focuses primarily on the summer academy.
“We use New York City as our campus,” she explained. She organized activities and classes last year for 940 students who come to Manhattan for two weeks to work with experienced New York Times reporters.
“I’ve really enjoyed working one on one with students,” she said. Now she wants to extend her skills and experience to help her fellow MHS alumni navigate the often tricky path through college and into a career.
“White rural students are not finishing college,” she said. Navigating college and the transition to career can be especially challenging for youth from rural areas. Rural students are statistically less likely than their non-rural peers to even attend college and are more likely to be “undermatched,” meaning their ACT or SAT scores qualify them for highly selective colleges, but they choose colleges that don’t match their academic ability, often to stay near home.
“It’s difficult to navigate wanting to be connected but recognizing the limitations of the small town you came from,” Nieslanik said. “The skills and experiences you have growing up in a small town can serve you beautifully.”
That’s where Nieslanik’s plan to create a scholarship program and mentoring network for local graduates comes into play. Step one is establishing a scholarship fund.
“We’ll have one winner to start,” she said. “I would love to have a male and a female winner.”
She’s in the process of creating a selection committee, and said the qualifications won’t be dependent on a student’s GPA, but more on their desire and dedication. “I want to be as inclusive as possible and focus on someone who is really dedicated to their own future and success.”
After setting up the scholarship, Nieslanik plans to create a “mentor and alumni” network of people who can provide guidance for students and help them “get their money’s worth” from their educational experience.
The first fundraising event for Nieslanik’s scholarship program will be this Saturday, Dec. 23 at Holliday’s’ in Meeker. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased in advance at https://mhs-holiday-scholarship-benefit.ticketleap.com/mhs-scholarship-benefit/details or at the door. Tickets include one drink and unlimited appetizers. Nieslanik said she’s planning a raffle and door prizes as well. Everyone over 21 is welcome to attend, whether or not they are an MHS graduate.