Jim Reis ’79

As a high school student, Jim Reis was a hard worker. So much so, that he was late to school often because he worked early morning hours at a nearby golf course cutting grass to help his family pay for food and other bills.

Jim Reis ’79

“My family was considered to be at the poverty level, which I didn’t understand at the time,” he said.

Not only was he a hard worker, but he was bright and was accepted into Bishop Verot High School in Ft. Myers, Florida which waived his tuition due to his family’s financial situation.

His principal, Sister Mary Rose Wilcox, saw his potential and took him under her wing. She overlooked his chronic tardiness and as part of her mentorship of him, she encouraged him to take college courses at Edison Community College because the high school didn’t offer advanced placement courses. That way, he would be better qualified to apply to a four-year school and lessen the cost.

Always carefully following her advice, Reis took the courses and started to save money. He had family in Rochester with whom he could live, so when it came time to apply to schools, he applied to the University of Rochester and the Rochester Institute of Technology. He first heard of Fisher from Sister Mary Rose, another one of her recommendations that he ended up listening to. After applying and being accepted, Reis enrolled at Fisher as a pre-law major, and ultimately switched to accounting. He was the recipient of a generous scholarship, which paid most of his tuition, but he continued to work framing houses for Ryan Homes while at Fisher to make up the difference, taking the bus every day from Charlotte to get to campus. He excelled and graduated early in 1979.

Though his campus experience at Fisher was far from the norm of a college student—he didn't live on campus and didn’t have any time to really get involved in student life—his service on the board of a large for-profit college as well as boards of several other public companies opened his eyes to the world of student loan debt and changed his views on college accessibility and affordability.

“I decided I was going to try to do something. That is why I got back in contact with Fisher. I realized the amazing gift I had received, and I knew I had to pay it forward,” he said.

And pay it forward, he did. With the establishment of the Reis-Bisor Scholarship, a $1 million commitment, two incoming students now receive scholarship funds annually to fill the gap between their allotted financial aid and the cost of tuition. He has since had the opportunity to meet with his scholarship recipients, and his long-term hope is that they, too, would like to mirror his actions when they are far along in their career.

“I saw shades of myself in them. They appear to be hard workers, and appreciate what they are getting, frankly, more than I ever did. They clearly had an outcome in mind,” he said. “If they are as blessed as I’ve been, it would be great to have others pay it forward again.”