Business proteges get help for future

Community college offers students funds, guidance

Awards pay up to $7,000 a year

Anne Arundel

February 02, 2004|By Sarah Lesher | Sarah Lesher,SUN STAFF

Kurtis M. Hargett is just 19, but the Linthicum Heights resident has been in the retail business since he was 12 and dreams of running his own chain of stores.

Parkville resident Shawn Ryce hopes to parlay her love of cooking and her informal catering experience into a professional culinary career.

And Iranian immigrant Hessam Dahi is looking to sharpen skills he and his friend need to keep their small computer repair business competitive.

All three Anne Arundel Community College students are among a class of 23 this spring in the Philip E. Ratcliffe Foundation Entrepreneurial Studies Scholarship program.

The program, which awarded scholarships to an initial group of 24 in the fall term, was established to help those who want to start businesses or need guidance with existing ones.

Philip E. Ratcliffe has had a long, successful career in real estate, including with the Maryland Management Co., a building management firm. Wanting to help others succeed in business by avoiding predictable pitfalls and mistakes, he pledged funding of $1 million over 10 years for the program.

"He's so passionate about helping students gain knowledge they need for success," said Carleen M. Cassidy, head of AACC's Entrepreneurial Studies Institute.

The program's selection process includes answering essay questions, providing references and being evaluated by a committee made up of Ratcliffe, two business owners and two academics.

The awards pay up to $7,000 annually and may be used for tuition, fees and books or other course materials.

Scholarship recipient Hargett credits Cassidy with getting him interested in the scholarships when she came into the paint store where he was working.

"I'd written her a letter about why she should use our paint," Hargett said. "She came all the way from Annapolis to [the paint store in] Columbia."

Hargett had started working at an uncle's clothing store when he was 12, making $4 an hour doing chores such as cleaning the bathroom -- "everything you basically don't want to do," he said. When he asked his uncle why everyone else had better jobs and made more money, his uncle told him he had to earn it.

"That stuck with me," Hargett said. He worked his way up to assistant manager of the store. Now his uncle wants to be his business partner and open a new chain of stores, but Hargett says he ultimately wants to make his own mark and open his own stores.

His uncle "is in favor of that," Hargett said. "He always says you have to push to get where you're going."

Ryce, 27, always had a love of food and cooking, but said her parents insisted that she attend a four-year college. She graduated from Howard University with a debt load she's paying down by working as an insurance underwriter, but she began catering informally for the parties of family and friends.

"I absolutely loved it," she said.

She started taking classes in culinary arts at Baltimore International College, but financial problems forced her to take a semester off. At an open house at AACC's Hospitality, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute, chef Taueret Thomas told her about the scholarship program.

"It was an extremely huge blessing for me," Ryce said. "Much as I wanted to pursue a degree in culinary arts, it was not possible with my budget. Getting a scholarship was like a dream come true."

Dahi, 51, who lives in Crofton, immigrated to the United States nearly 20 years ago. He earned a master's degree in informational science from the University of Baltimore but couldn't find a job in his field. In the late 1990s, he went back to school in information technology and eventually started a computer repair business with a friend.

Last year, Dahi learned about the entrepreneurial scholarship and decided to apply.

"The program is very emotionally supportive," he said. "People are out there trying to push and help. If I'm [successful] in my business I'd like to get involved in returning help to other people."

Scholarship recipient Christopher McEntee, 37, of Davidsonville has spent years working with substance abusers in rehabilitation programs such as Second Genesis and Hope House. He wants to buy and refurbish Baltimore rowhouses and rent them to people recently released from drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.

"The statistics are that most of the people who enter a house like that will not stay sober, but we want to give them a chance," said McEntee, who pointed to a nationwide program with houses run by the occupants under strict rules. "Structure is necessary as well as accountability, or else [they're] putting other people in the house at risk."

McEntee said he wants the satisfaction of making a contribution to the community and would consider that his way of paying back the help he is receiving from the Entrepreneurial Studies Institute.

For information about the Philip E. Ratcliffe Foundation Entrepreneurial Studies Scholarship program or an application, call 410-777-2066 or e-mail

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