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“Brain Gain” program hopes to make Allen County a little more appealing for recent graduates in high-tech fields

First recipients named in $10,000 educational loan repayment program

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


With “Brain Drain” seemingly the ultimate buzz phrase these days, City Councilman-at-Large Dr. John Crawford (R) is stewarding a program to make the prospect of staying in Allen County just a little sweeter for recent graduates educated and employed in specific high-tech fields. Crawford rounded up other City Council members and a handful of interested contributors to establish the “Brain Gain” educational loan repayment program.

Crawford committed four years of his City Council salary (a total of $70,000) to the program. In addition to contributions from Allen County Commissioners, Parkview Foundation, and a private foundation, Sam Tallarico Jr. and John Shoaff — Crawford’s two council at-Large colleagues — have also pledged $62,000 from their 2005 County Income Development Income Tax.

The “Brain Gain” program is an incremental loan-repayment program for college graduates in high-tech fields to encourage them to look for employment in those fields in Fort Wayne and Allen County. Winners receive awards of $2,500 per year for up to four years, for a potential total of $10,000. Should they stay in Allen County and continue their employment, they are eligible for the subsequent payments.

Applicants must be graduates with Bachelors or graduate degrees in engineering or computer sciences, employed in Advanced Manufacturing, Computer Information Technology, or Biomedical/Biotechnology.

“It’s not that we only have brain drain in those areas, but those are the people that are in the greatest demand across the country,” Crawford explains. “Those particular fields are very important to developing high-tech industries. They’re sort of the leaders. I could have targeted, for example, the medical field, but as a general rule, if you a lot of high-tech industries with good paying jobs, that creates the health care. We picked (the fields) most in demand, and the ones that tend to be the best in developing that aspect of the economy, the high-tech, high-paying jobs of the future.”

The Fort Wayne Educational Foundation administers the fund. The recipients are chosen by means of a volunteer review committee made up of board members of the Fort Wayne Educational Foundation. Applicants were asked to submit five items: an official transcript; a lender’s current statement of educational loans; a letter of recommendation from their employer; a listing of community or extra-curricular activities in which they have participated in the last two years; and a personal letter stating their academic major and future career goals.

According to Maureen Grinsfelder, Director of the Fort Wayne Educational Foundation, the committee looked at 34 applicants before narrowing it down to the three winners. “It was interesting that some of them we selected didn’t grow up here,” Grinsfelder says. “As it turned out, there were applicants who came from other areas and chose to stay in Fort Wayne, and that’s great, because they’re bringing talents that the county and community needs.”

The first three recipients of the Brain Gain program — April Bledsoe, Jeffery Newcomer, and Aaron Diers — were announced at a ceremony on November 4, and each boast a list of accomplishments that make you feel guilty for spending evenings watching re-runs of Law & Order. April Bledsoe and Jeffrey Newcomer both work at International Truck and Engine Corporation. Newcomer earned his Bachelor’s from IPFW and his Master of Science Degree from Purdue, and coaches basketball at the Old Fort YMCA in his spare time. Bledsoe is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and Society of Women Engineers, with volunteer work that includes Habitat for Humanity, United Way Day-of-Caring, and tutoring elementary students. Diers is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Indiana Tech and is currently working on his Masters Degree in computer science at IPFW. He works in the IT department at Indiana Tech and also teaches there…

The rules of the “Brain Gain” program state that recipients must remain employed in the area in order to receive the subsequent installments. They don’t have to stay in the same job, of course, but they do have to stay within one of the fields designated by the program, and they do have to be employed in Allen County. This year’s three recipients don’t see a problem with that. April Bledsoe, a graduate of Purdue University who is pursuing an MSE at Indiana Tech, grew up and worked in Indianapolis for several years. She says she likes what Fort Wayne has to offer. “You get what you need from a large city, but it has a small community feel,” Bledsoe says. “It’s the second-largest city in Indiana, but it doesn’t feel like it.”

Even though the program is designed to help students pay back educational loans, Grinsfelder says the size of the outstanding debt wasn’t a factor. What was an important factor were non-work-related community activities. Grinsfelder says they took a close look at whether applicants had participated in any community activities or had an interest in contributing back to the community.

“I think the committee was more interested in their potential and their interest in the community,” Grinsfelder adds. “Councilman Crawford mentioned (at the ceremony) that maybe they would start business. I don’t suppose their employers would like to hear that at this point, but we were hoping to choose the kinds of people who may sometime in the future develop a business and increase employment in Allen County.”

Crawford says he sees the “Brain Gain” program as just one factor in making Fort Wayne competitive in a high-tech economy. “You have to have the jobs, you have to have the infrastructure, you have to have the quality of life, and if you’ve got one more hook to try to attract them in helping pay off their loans, maybe you’ll have enough to beat out some other city that’s competing for the same people.”

Applications for the next Brain Gain awards must be submitted to the Fort Wayne Educational Foundation by April 1, 2006. Call (260) 481-6256.

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