"I think we learn more from them than they learn from us," Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg tells PEOPLE

Advertisement

Dave Goldberg was a champion of equal opportunity — first in life, and now in death.

Four years after the former SurveyMonkey CEO’s death in 2015, his wife, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, is continuing Dave’s legacy through a scholarship program that helps students from in-need families navigate college with monetary help, career guidance and impactful connections.

“My husband passed away four years ago, and I started thinking about doing something to honor his legacy, and as it was approaching his 50th birthday, I started thinking about this,” Sandberg, 49, tells PEOPLE. “The idea — Dave cared about a lot of things, but he really cared about having everyone getting equal opportunity. He thought he got a great education, but we all know that not everyone gets a great education.”

JG2_8628

Calling her late husband a “community builder,” Sandberg explains of what is now the Dave Goldberg Scholarship Program, “What we decided to do was this program that would try to take people who came from more disadvantaged backgrounds and make sure they’ve got every opportunity, as well as Dave’s community around them. So, using the power of Dave’s community to lift up other people in his honor and in his name.”

Sandberg and Dave’s family partnered with KIPP Charter Schools, a non-profit network of college-preparatory, public charter schools. Says Sandberg, “We chose KIPP because KIPP is a high-performing school system working with kids that don’t have the advantages that Dave thought everyone should have.”

Goldberg Scholars Leadership Wekeend_2019 Group Photo
Credit: Josh Gruetzmacher
JG1_0341
Credit: Josh Gruetzmacher

Each year, KIPP selects 15 graduates to join the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation’s Goldberg Scholars. The students receive stipends for critical expenses outside of tuition and room and board; a mentor who will provide support throughout the scholarship; support from the Goldberg Connectors, a network of professionals who will help students secure summer internships and job opportunities; and a leadership weekend focused on professional development and networking with the other scholars and mentors.

“They were seeing the KIPP alumni were not graduating at the same rate as non-first generation students who came from more affluent backgrounds, and weren’t getting the same job opportunities, and so really seeing that college wasn’t enough and that the importance of strong network and connections is what would really empower a new generation of diverse leaders,” explains Bekah Thayer Pyne, strategic initiatives lead at the Sheryl Sandberg & Dave Goldberg Family Foundation. “And so that’s really the heart of how this scholarship program was created — to address and close that gap.”

And it’s working. Says KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth, “The Goldberg Scholarship program is an incredible opportunity for our KIPP students. These young future leaders have worked tremendously hard and we are so proud that they will receive the support they need to change the world for generations to come.”

Thirty students were selected as members of the first, 2018 class of Goldberg Scholars, with 15 students joining the group in 2019. Pyne tells PEOPLE that the 2019 class is 100 percent students of color and 100 percent low-income students, with the majority first-generation college students.

“The key qualities that we really look for when deciding who will be a Goldberg Scholar is that really independent thinking and entrepreneurial spirit, strong character, resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges, demonstrating leadership, and then obviously a record of high academic achievement,” Pyne tells PEOPLE.

Echoes Dave’s brother Rob Goldberg, “We’re looking for leaders who are interested in making change and making the world a better place.”

The students’ appointed mentors also come from a wide range of backgrounds, with everyone from doctors to CEOs or company founders.

“I have a [mentee], my brother-in-law Rob has one, my parents have one. Dave’s mom has one,” shares Sandberg.

Last month, the students gathered in California for the leadership weekend, which included dinner at Sandberg’s home, professional development seminars and career roundtables with industry leaders, among other activities.

JG1_1015
Credit: Josh Gruetzmacher

There, the students also got to spend time with their mentors, like Metztli Garcia, who is paired with Rob, CEO and Founder of Fresno.

Garcia, a UCLA student, was raised in Los Angeles in a Latinx low-income household and spent time in the foster care system. The program “completely changed everything for me,” she said in an impact story over the leadership weekend.

“Sheryl’s unbelievable generosity literally alleviated that barrier, a worry that weighed so heavily,” she shared. “She gave me the opportunity to follow my dreams of attending UCLA.”

JG1_0794
Credit: Students and community leaders during the leadership weekend

Of Rob, Garcia said that while the mentor and mentee may not communicate every day, he makes her “feel accomplished.”

She shared, “I think something that a mentor does, and he may not realize he’s doing naturally, is recognizing my efforts and hard work.”

And that value goes both ways, says Sandberg: “I think we learn more from them than they learn from us.”

“That’s what this program is — to allow people the ability to give back, the mentors themselves,” Rob tells PEOPLE. “I hear countless stories about how much value the mentors get out of it, not just the mentees, not just the people receiving it, but the ability to give back, the ability to help.”

Rob says that though some of the students come from “really challenging backgrounds,” they’ve become “the lighthouses of their families, of their communities — and not by becoming the next president of the United States or founding the next nonprofit that changes the world, but by being leaders in their own right, and being strong, and applying themselves and growing and changing, and then helping those around them just by example, if not by who they are.”

Though the scholarship program is only in its second year, the leaders behind it have big hopes for the future.

“The true success is that if these Goldberg scholars become their own network and support each other, and then can eventually support their communities, and their siblings, and their friends, and their friend’s children, et cetera and so on,” says Rob.