The endowed scholarship Tia Wiggins ‘07 (Business Administration) created at UNC Greensboro’s Bryan School of Business and Economics has turned out to be much more than a financial award. Recipients of her scholarship have become part of “Tia’s Circle” as she calls it – a small but growing network she hopes will make a difference in all of their futures.
Four years ago, Wiggins became the youngest donor in Bryan School history to create an endowed fund at her alma mater, with a $25,000 commitment to the UNCG Excellence Foundation. Today, the Tia S. Wiggins Endowed Scholarship is nearly fully funded and she has personally awarded eight students. Wiggins is committed to growing this circle and connecting recipients to inspire them to succeed and give back.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for people entering my life, right when I needed ‘a lift’ with support and exposure,” says Wiggins, who, at 37 is an experienced business leader and head of North America Partner Sales Strategic Programs and Acceleration Team for Amazon Web Services. “Now, in this season of my life, I’m focusing on cultivating platforms for others, and to help my awardees – these hidden gems – really accelerate where they want to go in life.”
Carletta Simmons, Senior Director of Development at the Bryan School, says more donors like Wiggins are committing to philanthropy at a younger age. “I think a lot of younger alumni are realizing how much of an impact donors have made on their education. As a result, they give back as a way of paying it forward,” she says. “Those who are not ready for major gifts are making annual gifts more regularly and with more intent. Every donor and every gift makes a difference.”
Recipients of the Tia Wiggins Endowed Scholarship (left to right) top row: Brianna Owens, Camiya Royster, Jewel Oats. Bottom row: Navia Stevenson, Laurynne Chadwell, Tatiyana Ross
Wiggins’ endowment is intended to help those who have financial need, particularly students of color, who are committed to their studies, community service, leadership and work. The award isn’t necessarily for students who earn a great GPA – Wiggins aims to pull up students that display grit while working multiple jobs, overcome roadblocks, lead on campus, and impact others. She says it is for students who struggle with obtaining scholarship awards and recognition yet they show up every day for others.
Raised by two military parents, Wiggins quickly learned the importance of hard work and giving back. Her family worked multiple jobs, often receiving in-kind gifts from nonprofits and attending state-funded educational programs. One year, her mother suggested the family forgo Christmas presents so they could provide gifts instead for residents of a children’s home. It was not a popular decision at the time, Wiggins says with a laugh, but it made a lasting impact.
Later, while studying at UNCG, Wiggins served in leadership roles and worked jobs in retail, as a tutor, and as a babysitter to earn money. Unexpectedly, she received the J. Norman Black & William F. Black Endowed Business Scholarship – a signal that her efforts mattered as the president of the Black Business Students Association and the Student Advisory Council. This much-needed gift helped her go on to receive the Bryan Achievement and Leadership Award upon graduating.
Today, Wiggins continues to serve in philanthropic roles with the United Way, and wants to invest in her scholarship recipients in the same way she feels donors invested in her. “Anything is possible,” she tells them. “Don’t worry about the vision. Plant your seeds one by one, and trust that others will water them.”
She hopes one day that her students are inspired to pay it forward. “These are people that have a heart to give, and I expect when they get where they’re going, they will create their own endowments that will start a ripple effect,” Wiggins says. “My goal has always been to leverage my gifts and my blessings to bless others. I feel like I’m just getting started. I promise anyone that is seeking to make an investment, your hands will never be empty as a giver.”
NOTE: Since this article was published, two more Bryan School students have received the Tia Wiggins Endowed Scholarship: Kyra Johnson, junior and Cailyn Stackhouse, senior.