Wegmans Work Scholarship Program Improves Graduation Rates

Ty Kelly's 2018 recap of Wegmans Work Scholarship Program

Rewind 33 years to 1987, and Rochester’s high school dropout rate is extremely high. Bill Johnson, then president of the Urban League of Rochester, called upon businesses in the community to take action and find ways to help improve graduation rates.

Wegmans responded to Johnson’s request by creating the Wegmans Work Scholarship Program (WWSP), designed to introduce more students, especially minorities, to the company and give them access to the Wegmans Employee Scholarship Program, as well as opportunities for advancement within the company. Building a program like this was an easy decision for the Wegman family, as they knew it was the right thing to do.

The program, which has grown significantly over the years, is intended for students less fortunate; those who do not have all the resources needed at home to be successful. With each school’s support and the help of appointed youth advocates, Wegmans’ goal is to help these students get on the right track and teach them disciplines that can be transferred to their schoolwork. Once hired at Wegmans, students must meet and maintain a specified minimum GPA and school attendance record as a condition of employment. Employees who choose to further their education after graduation automatically receive the Wegmans Employee Scholarship.

In the program’s early years, Ty Kelly, then Brooks-Chili store manager, was one of the first to see the value of the WWSP and was committed to giving these students an opportunity to succeed at Wegmans and in their high school careers. After seeing remarkable results, Kelly became a pioneer of the program and began educating other store managers on its importance.

“Without exceptional leadership and dedication, the Work Scholarship program would not have achieved such everlasting success,” says Danny Wegman. “More than 30 years ago, we started the program with 30 students, and we have worked with nearly 4,000 since then. Leaders like Allen Johnson, Sarah Etsler, and Ty Kelly, among others, all have done an incredible job building this program to where it is today. It takes many people to help others succeed, and I have the utmost gratitude for every person who has contributed to the success of the Wegmans Work Scholarship program.”

Today, the WWSP has expanded from Rochester to Buffalo, Syracuse, and Prince George’s County, Maryland, with 272 current participants. With a consistent 99%-100% graduation rate over the years, graduates of the program have gone on to further their education and their careers. While many have advanced within the company, others have gone on to pursue different career paths. As Kelly says in the video, “our primary interest for the program is to develop productive citizens in our community.” The skills learned throughout the WWSP help students excel no matter what career path they choose.

“We are fortunate to have found so many potential leaders from this program who bring diversity to our company. We have 680 alumni who have stayed with Wegmans, working throughout the seven states we have stores, our corporate offices, and distribution. As we continue to grow, the opportunities to advance their careers are endless,” says Kelly.

Of those 680 graduates, 377 are attending college while still working part time with Wegmans, 225 are working part time while pursuing other interests, and 78 are full-time employees. And no matter where they are in the company, their involvement with the program didn’t end at graduation. They now act as role models for the younger generation and those in leadership roles are able to guide high school students, in the program or not, by sharing their own experiences. This results in a more well-rounded, diverse pool of employees who share a common goal of making Wegmans a great place to work.