Scholarships to trucking's constituents are gifts that keep right on giving

One of the quotable remarks of the great Irish wit Oscar Wilde goes like this: Success is a science; if you have the conditions, you get the result. If a high-school grad's idea of success includes a college education, one of the chief conditions needed to get that result is nothing more prosaic than money.

And since that result benefits many more persons than the student alone, scholarships are worthwhile endowments by interested parties. Although an exact return on these investments is hard to measure, the potential for payback exists on several levels.

Whether scholarships arise from the generosity of fraternal or professional associations, church or school groups, or corporate sponsors, the recipients -- not to mention their families -- remember who helped foot the bill for their college degrees.

What's more, the immediate families are unlikely to sit on the good news. Though no one likes to admit being "needy," academic and athletic scholarships are usually bragged about far and wide, since they are -- and rightly -- seen as distinguished rewards for achievement.

Businesses that support scholarships are viewed as community-oriented and forward-thinking. The afterglow created can attract more customers and better employees.

The final dividend is paid back when scholarship recipients collect their sheepskins and launch their careers. Again, they'll remember who helped put a mortarboard over their heads. Even if they wind up too far away to work for them, or even buy their products, they'll be singing the praises of their benefactors for the better part of a lifetime.

Gee, that brings us to trucking -- an industry that never tires of complaining how "misunderstood" it is by John Q. Public. Truckers of all stripes are right. The industry at best is taken for granted, at worst hated and feared beyond all reason.

But when a company -- including truck fleets -- limits its community outreach to employees and customers, it ends up singing only to the choir.

Industry-sourced scholarships -- whether proffered by fleets or their suppliers -- are a significant way to tell people that trucking is not just big trucks, it's big business -- and with a big heart.

A case in point is Bloomington, Ind.-based K&W Products, whose aftermarket products include the AVIEX heavy-duty line. For the second year running, the firm has awarded college scholarships specifically to the children of one of its important customer groups, the truck drivers of the U.S. and Canada.

This year, K&W's enlightened sense of customer appreciation led it to distribute a total of $5,000 in scholarships to three recipients. According to the company, its 1997 program attracted 122 applicants from 40 states and Canada.

To be eligible, the students had to be entering or enrolled in college, graduating no sooner than next year, and have a parent holding a current CDL. Each applicant was also required to author a 750-word essay on the topic of "the greatest challenge facing young people today." The essays underwent a blind evaluation by an independent panel of three judges, who determined the winners.

The first-place award of a $3,000 scholarship went to Meredith Bates, a University of Oklahoma student of microbiology and Navy ROTC enrollee. Bates' winning essay discussed the importance of devising a method of achieving long- and short-term goals. Her father, John W. Bates, drives for Sapula, Okla.-based John Christener Trucking.

"We are thrilled with the results of this year's AVIEX College Scholarship program," reports K&W president John Goode Jr. "We had a substantial increase in response over last year, which made selecting three winners a difficult task for our judges. All the essays were enlightening and gave us a good look at the world through the eyes of its young people."

Given the amount of cash most companies drop on all kinds of advertising and publicity efforts, five or even more grand seems a reasonable sum to invest toward attaining goodwill that will last far into tomorrow.