Friday, January 22, 2021

When she graduated from Dover High School in 2019, Makayla Edgecomb ’23 wanted to go to college. She envisioned living in a dorm, meeting new people, taking classes and having new experiences.

But she wasn’t sure what she would major in. And did it make sense to spend the money on a degree, if she wasn’t even sure what that degree would be, or what career it might lead to?

For her mother, Laurie, there wasn’t a question. Laurie had started out at UNH, but had a life detour and wasn’t able to finish as planned. Now working in the Dover Public Schools, she believes in attending college right after high school.

“It’s important to me that she gets those opportunities, and gets the chance to make a difference for herself. It’s important to have goals, and guidance, from the beginning. Having that degree is going to make a difference to where she can go in her future,” says Laurie.

And so the family decided to make it work — Makayla would work 30 to 40 hours at her job at Chipotle, and live at home to save money on room and board, while her family would contribute whatever they could to make college a reality.

Community and environmental planning is about making our communities better places to live, work and play. Topics of interest in this major include economic development, transportation, affordable housing, green space, sustainability and local agriculture. The program requires an internship before graduating, giving students real-world experience to help launch their careers. To learn more, check out the program’s web page, or email Professor Friedman at

At freshman orientation, she learned it was OK to be unsure; in fact, freshman year was a great time to explore interests by taking a mix of classes. Ultimately, she found the perfect fit of a major: Community and Environmental Planning through the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture.

Because of a scheduling mix-up amid that random mix of freshman year classes — French, economics, chemistry — Makayla landed in a community and environmental planning class.

“I remember thinking, ‘Oh wow, this is actually really cool,’” she explains. “I wanted to do something with science, I wanted to do something with business, and I didn’t want to be confined to one specific career. With this major, I could work on the environmental side, the community side with people, in management … it fit all the aspects of what I want to do.” She plans to minor in business, as well, to complement what she’ll learn in COLSA.

But this isn’t a story about a young woman finding an area of study that matches her passion and gets her excited about a career — although that is a good story.

This is a story about perfect timing and serendipity.

At the same time Makayla was navigating freshman year, Granite State Development Corporation was working on plans of their own. According to President Scott Gardiner ’88G, the organization “wanted to do something significant” to help students at UNH.

GSDC has always been generous, regularly awarding smaller scholarships of roughly $2,500 to students at different schools. It was one of those previous recipients that inspired this idea for UNH, explains Gardiner.

“A student came in to talk with us to say thank you, and he stated, ‘This was huge for me, I was able to further my career, graduate with no student loans, and start a full-time job,’” Gardiner recalls. “He told us the small scholarship had a major impact in his life.”

GSDC’s then president Alan Abraham, along with Gardiner and others, were moved. “Alan realized how fortunate we have been at GSDC and he recognized the importance of graduating without any student debt. We decided to take what we learned and turn it into something extraordinary,” says Gardiner, who took over as GSDC president in March.

And so they did. Working with Susan McDonough at the UNH Foundation, they crafted a scholarship that will create the Granite State Development Corporation Scholars program for rising sophomores. Each scholarship will cover the full cost of a student’s tuition, room and board, fees and other expenses for the remaining three years of their undergraduate careers at UNH.

The inaugural award was slated to go to a deserving student whose major aligns with the values of GSDC’s work in economic development, someone pursuing the very major Makayla had just discovered: Community and Environmental Planning.

The Granite State Economic Development Corporation (GSDC) is a non-profit organization that aims to create economic development by assisting businesses in acquiring small business loans through the 504 lending program. Small businesses owners use the loans for a variety of purposes: to expand their businesses, purchase new equipment, create or retain jobs, and renovate or build facilities. It was founded in 1982 by Alan Abraham.

So when it came time for UNH to award the scholarship, COLSA faculty made the case to invest in Makayla.

“The most important criteria for this scholarship was being passionate, and hardworking… it is meant for students who are motivated, and thinking about the future,” says Mary Friedman, program coordinator and lecturer in the Community and Environmental Planning program. “Makayla’s name came to the top of the list: GPA, passion, motivated. I think she’s a great student, and I’ve loved working with her.”

In June as Makayla awaited word on the scholarship, and what a return to campus might look like amid the coronavirus pandemic, Friedman was tasked with giving her the very good news: she had been selected as the first recipient. As long as she continues in her major and keeps her grades up, the scholarship will renew each semester for the next three years.

Gardiner says while the GSDC has a Granite State focus, its market is truly throughout the New England region. Despite that reach, the company feels it has a special connection to the state’s flagship university. “UNH has been a good partner with GSDC; a number of us have graduated from UNH and we have recently employed several summer interns,” says Gardiner, who earned his MBA here in 1988.

He credits the entire staff and board of directors of GSDC as the primary donors to this scholarship, as they each contribute to the organization’s success. He spoke with Makayla and her mother via Zoom just after they heard the good news.

“Our success is because of hard working New Hampshire residents like yourself,” Gardiner told them. “Your drive and determination are going to take you very far in this world, and everyone here is honored and very proud that we can help you succeed.”

Laughing and crying a bit at the same time, Makayla responded: “I don’t even know what to say! Thank you… thank you so much.”