Paying it Forward

When Laura Kottkamp MBA '03 was applying to business schools, Duke wasn't at the top of her list. Kottkamp was hoping to stay in or near Richmond, VA, with her husband. But on her application to Fuqua, she checked the box to be considered for a scholarship.

The scholarship she ultimately received was the Keller Scholarship, which recognizes stewardship, leadership and impact—all key characteristics of those in the Team Fuqua community. At its inception in 1997, the scholarship-named for Fuqua's former dean, Tom Keller-was primarily funded by corporate sponsors. Today, the scholarship is supported entirely through the school's operating budget and, in turn, the Fuqua Annual Fund. Given Keller's history in building the school and his focus on community, it is only fitting that a scholarship named in his honor is the result of the collective effort of many.

When it was created, the goals of the Keller Scholarship were twofold. The first was to boost Fuqua's competitive edge against top-tier business schools by providing full scholarships. Secondly, it was to be a tool for attracting the best students to Fuqua's programs.

"If you look at the ideals Dean Tom Keller exhibited," said Liz Riley Hargrove, Associate Dean for Admissions, "his was a visionary leadership style. He was committed to building and maintaining relationships within the community, and that is what we're looking for in applicants—evidence of leadership and service. It's not just about the academic profile or GMAT score; it's about finding the all-around best students in the applicant pool."

Although pursuing her MBA was her first foray into business education, Kottkamp, a history and French undergraduate major, was seen by Fuqua as one of those "best" students—a potential leader among her peers and in the community.

"It really shifted my perception that a school would place such a high value on the perspective my different background would bring," Kottkamp said. "It's empowering for a school to convey to a student, 'Not only can you learn from us, but we know you will give back to the community.' They didn't just see me as a number."

With the endorsement and support that the Keller Scholarship brought, Kottkamp chose to attend Fuqua despite the distance from her husband.

"Liz told me they weren't expecting me to do anything other than just be myself," Kottkamp said. "Rather than trying to be number one in the classroom, she assured me that my job was to make a difference by giving my time."

Each year Fuqua selects 10-15 students to be Keller Scholars. Hargrove notes that for each, she can name several activities in which he or she has been involved that truly made a difference for their classmates and future Fuqua students. This can range from sitting on a curriculum committee to assisting in the admissions interview process.

"The collaborative community we've built at Fuqua is one of the reasons students choose to come here," Hargrove said. "Students have the ability to take risks in a safe environment, and can define their own leadership style. There isn't a stipulation for Keller Scholars that says they have to do 'A, B and C,' but we want them to be involved with this community."

During her time at Fuqua, Kottkamp served as Editor of the Fuqua Times. As an executive fellow, she worked with the Dean's Office to attract and introduce guest speakers for the Distinguished Speakers series. She also assisted with Keller Scholar activities. She continued volunteering several years post-graduation, providing career insight to potential Fuqua students.

After her graduation, Kottkamp worked at Dominion, one of the nation's largest electric power and natural gas companies, located in Richmond, VA. During her seven years there, she rose from an investor relations manager, to director of investor relations, to director of supplier diversity. She developed the company's financial marketing strategy and materials, and facilitated and encouraged purchasing from diverse suppliers, exceeding Dominion's initial goal, to name just a few of her achievements.

Kottkamp has since transitioned to a position at her undergraduate alma mater the College of William and Mary, with the Mason School of Business. As Director of Corporate Relations, she builds partnerships with target companies that offer relevant careers for MBA candidates. She says that her time at Fuqua has added to her perspective and understanding of students' needs.

"Someone saw something in me," Kottkamp said, "and it resulted in a transformational experience. Now I have the chance to pay that forward, and to use my personal experience to help today's students."

Despite her busy career and family life, Kottkamp continues to be involved with both Duke and Fuqua. She helped start the Duke Richmond alumni group, has returned to campus to speak in the classroom, and has served as a reunion committee member. The Fuqua network is one she turns to often: To this day, she depends on Fuqua alumni and friends for technical assistance and career advice.

Kottkamp feels that it's also important for her to give back to the school through the Fuqua Annual Fund. "Someone gave money so that I could and would go to Fuqua," she said, "so the decision to give back financially is an easy one."

Kottkamp realizes that by donating to the Fuqua Annual Fund, alumni are contributing directly to attracting students who will have a great impact both in the classroom and in their future endeavors.

"Taking a chance on a person can really change a life," Kottkamp said.

Learn more about supporting the Keller Scholarship by donating to the Fuqua Annual Fund.