Wegmans Stresses Importance of Education through Scholarship Program
For Felix Mateo, college was much more than just a natural next step in continuing his education; college was the dream. Determined from a young age, he took advantage of every opportunity he could to achieve his goal of becoming the first member of his family to attend college.
At the age of 17, Mateo was hired at Wegmans through the Wegmans Work Scholarship Program, a 34-year-old program designed to help support underserved high school students through employment and a mentorship with Wegmans, as well as access to the Wegmans Employee Scholarship. After hearing there was an opportunity for a scholarship, Mateo eagerly accepted the job, and in turn, began looking at colleges.
“As my dream started turning into a reality, the more nerve racking it became,” said Mateo. “Being a first-generation college student comes with high expectations; everyone is watching you, and graduating is the only option. I put a lot of pressure on myself to succeed. And on top of all that, it’s a lot of money.”
With the help of New York State’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Wegmans Employee Scholarship, Mateo began his college journey at Nazareth in 2016. At that time, he also applied for the Management Intern Program at Wegmans. The three-year internship is intended to develop employees into future managerial roles. Each summer, interns rotate through different departments of the store learning skills like food production, inventory, scheduling, and leadership responsibilities. With encouragement from his store management team, Mateo was excited to take on this challenge.
“My first few years of college were very stressful – choosing a major, living on campus, maintaining my job, and getting my schoolwork done was a lot to balance.”
Mateo withdrew from Nazareth after two years and took a semester off before enrolling at Monroe Community College. After learning more about Wegmans’ store operations through his internship, he decided to take advantage of that experience and get a degree in business management. Mateo graduated with his associate’s degree last May and was just recently accepted into Roberts Wesleyan College to finish his bachelor’s degree in the upcoming school year.
“While getting through college has been a struggle, it’s also been very rewarding,” said Mateo. “Every step of the way, even when I wanted to give up after withdrawing from Nazareth, Wegmans was there. My managers encouraged me to keep working toward my degree, and I don’t think I would’ve continued if it wasn’t for their support and the scholarship. Each semester, the scholarship helped me tremendously, both with tuition and school supplies. I am grateful to my managers at Wegmans for my job and for giving me the resources I need to be successful.”
Since 1984, the Wegmans Employee Scholarship has been awarded to more than 42,500 employees totaling over $130 million. Scholarship recipients are encouraged to study any field that piques their interest, at any accredited college, and are not required to continue their employment with Wegmans after graduation. Wegmans has seen a wide range of employees take advantage of this opportunity, including first-generation college students like Felix Mateo, adults who are looking to go back to school, and single, working parents.
Sheila Beach, a staffing manager in the Rochester division, is an employee who was able to benefit from the scholarship at two different points in her career. Beach started with Wegmans at 16 years old as a part-time cashier and was accepted into the scholarship program when she began college a few years after. At 20 years old, Beach got pregnant and decided to take a step back from college and pursue a full-time position at Wegmans.
“While it was a hard decision to drop out of college, financial stability was more important at that time,” said Beach. “I knew that wouldn’t be the end of my college journey, just a pause until the timing was right again.”
During her time off from college, Beach worked full time in Human Resources, holding several different positions, both in the stores and corporate offices, all while raising her daughter, Alyssa, as a single mom. As much as she enjoyed building her career at Wegmans, a part of her still wanted to finish her bachelor’s degree. So, in 2017, when Alyssa was 11, Beach decided to dive back in. She applied and was accepted into SUNY Empire State College giving her the flexibility to take classes online at her own pace. Like Mateo, her experience at Wegmans influenced her to pursue a degree in business administration so that her classes would better align with her work.
“When I began talking about going back to school, my team at Wegmans was very supportive,” said Beach. “They were willing to do whatever they needed to help make this a smooth transition for me. Without their flexibility and the Wegmans scholarship, it would have been very difficult for me to go back. Juggling school, work, and my family was a lot, but made graduating that much more satisfying.”
Education has always been a top priority for Beach, and she has instilled the importance of school in her daughter as well. Seeing her mom finish college with the help of Wegmans has motivated Alyssa to follow the same path – work for Wegmans and apply for the employee scholarship when the time comes.