It’s safe to say that Memphis has gotten under Mandy Rough’s skin. The Jacksonville, Florida, native left the beaches for college at Emory University in Atlanta and her potluck roomie just happened to be a Memphian. Mandy — whose last name rhymes with dough — first moved here for a year, from 1979 to 1980; she returned from 1985 to 1992 and then came back to stay in 1998. A mom of two daughters (Dr. Abby Yandell Talbot of Memphis and Cory Yandell Lewis of Chattanooga), Mandy’s early career took her to Atlanta and Nashville where she discovered that education was the industry in which she wanted to work. She’s now executive director of the Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust (MOST), which provides multi-year scholarships to qualified students to help defray the cost of parochial or private schooling. Mandy is married to Rick Rough, who she recruited to come to Memphis (Read on for that funny story!). Welcome, Mandy, today’s FACE of Memphis.
Describe your early career. Where did you work and what were your jobs?
My first job out of college was in the trust department of an Atlanta bank. When I moved to Nashville, I knew I wanted to work at Vanderbilt and landed a job in the development office of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. From then on, I was hooked on the world of education. Vanderbilt was followed by the development offices at Rhodes College and the University of Dallas, then St. Mary’s Episcopal School as director of admission and financial aid, which led to my current work with Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust.
What’s the mission of the Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust?
The mission of Memphis Opportunity Scholarship Trust, or MOST, is to give Memphis-area families the opportunity to send their children to the school of their choice. To fulfill our mission, MOST offers partial scholarships, beginning in the earliest school years (starting with PK-3), for qualified families who wish to send their child to a private school. We also help families understand their educational options and which ones would be the best fit for their children and their family.
How many students do you support?
Each year we provide scholarships for more than 500 children — PK-3 through 12th grade — helping them attend any of 70 private schools scattered around Shelby County and north Mississippi. Our maximum scholarships this year are $2,000 for students in PK-3 through eighth grade, and $2,200 for high school students — with the average being about $1,915. The maximum awards will increase by $100 for the 2016-2017 school year.
So much has changed with the Memphis and Shelby County schools over the last few years. How has the merger of the city and county schools, plus the creation of the municipal school districts, affected MOST?
The changes in the public schools have caused confusion for some Shelby County families and, sometimes uncertainly, so many have turned to MOST to gain a better understanding of what educational options they have for their children. We are happy to guide them to resources to help them better understand both the public school sector (including charter schools) and the private school sector. If they determine that a private school is the best fit for their child, then we try to help make that a reality by providing financial assistance in the form of a scholarship.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
As with any non-profit, the most challenging part is fundraising. We would love to offer scholarships to many times more students than we are currently able to. With first-time scholarships going almost entirely to students entering PK-3, PK-4, kindergarten and first grade, we still receive applications each year for 700-800 more students than we can help.
Tell us the story about how you met your husband, Rick.
Rick and I first saw each other in the Wilmington, North Carolina, airport when my sister, two lifelong friends and I were practicing our kick-line to greet my brother as he was getting off the plane. Rick and two golfing buddies were at the airport waiting for their fourth, and they found us to be rather amusing. So, we invited them to join us the next night and they showed up! I’ve been married to Rick Rough for three-and-a-half years. I recruited him to Memphis from Northern Virginia — and he’s a big fan of his new town!
What are your hobbies and how do you unwind?
There’s nothing much better to me than a bike ride on a nice Memphis day or evening. It makes me feel like a kid again and is a great way to see Memphis. My husband and I love to ride wherever the spirit moves us — sometimes to nowhere in particular, sometimes to lunch or dinner, and often we reward ourselves with a frothy adult beverage at a brewery or restaurant. I also enjoy sitting and listening to music at Otherlands, Lafayette’s, Levitt Shell or anywhere with something good!
Where’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they come to visit you in Memphis?
We take out-of-towners to our favorite barbecue places and other great restaurants, plus the many interesting sites like the Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studio, Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the Mississippi River — and more! We keep our guests very busy.
What’s your favorite Memphis attraction and why?
I love the Grizzlies — the individual players and the team — who have done so much to bring our city together and put Memphis in a great light, nationally.
What one word describes you?
Enthusiastic is my word; my husband says “goofy.”
What inspires you?
It’s really “who” inspires me. First and foremost are the parents I speak with every day in my work at MOST. Like all parents, they want what is best for their children and a great education is at the top of their list. They are willing to sacrifice many things, personally, in order to provide the best education possible for their kids, as they know that is the foundation for a successful life. We are proud to be partners with them and with our amazing schools.
I am also inspired by the generous Memphians who join with MOST and other non-profits to give of their time and financial resources to make our community strong. The generosity seen in Memphis motivates us all to do more.
What’s your best piece of advice for others?
To those who want to work in the non-profit sector: Only work for an organization with a mission to which you are completely committed. In doing so, you will find your job to be meaningful, rewarding and, yes, even fun.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without excluding faith, family and friends?
My morning coffee, music (of many genres) and trips to the beach – any beach!
Thanks to Mandy for sharing about her work and life with us today. And thanks to Micki Martin for her wonderful photos of Mandy!
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