Sheila Marlow Due was announced as the new CEO of McKinney Education Foundation on Sept. 22.

With over 25 years of experience in nonprofit leadership, Due has worked in the education, social services and arts sectors. Prior to joining the foundation, Due oversaw the Alamo Colleges Foundation as executive director. The San Antonio-based foundation serves five community college institutions. Under her tenure, the foundation’s assets increased 200% from $25 million to $75 million between 2018-21.

Due sat down with Community Impact to discuss the McKinney Education Foundation’s role in McKinney ISD and how the foundation helps prepare students for post-high school careers. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

What drew you to the McKinney Education Foundation?

I did my research. I talked to colleagues in the area, [and] I talked to people I know. I asked questions like, “How involved is the board?” [and] “Do they help with fundraising?”

These are some of the things that are going to be really important to me.

The one opportunity I saw in MEF was the ability to increase philanthropic support by engaging donors by putting in place systems that strategically move the ball forward [and] move the needle forward. I believe there’s a real opportunity to build upon the great work that has gone on for the last 32 years to get MEF where it is today. I think there’s a big opportunity to take us where we are now to the next level.

Could you describe what the McKinney Education Foundation is?

Education in and of itself is the heartbeat of any community. The McKinney Education Foundation is all about the power of education and what it can do to a student’s life. We’re dedicated to making education a force to help students overcome obstacles [and] to take them to their next journey after high school, whether it’s community college, trade school or a four-year institution. The McKinney Education Foundation is there to support that effort.

Why is the McKinney Education Foundation important for McKinney ISD schools?

MEF provides an enormous resource for students, teachers, staff and parents. We fund hundreds of scholarships every year. Through our high school adviser program, we are able to help students navigate external opportunities for millions upon millions of dollars’ worth of external scholarships that would not be available without those high school advisers.

One of the things that I find so inspiring is what the McKinney Education Foundation does in awarding innovative grants to teachers, meaning [teachers] have a very dynamic project or programs that’s going to help propel their classroom [and] their students forward.

Many times it’s that spark that will ignite in a child’s mind that helps them re-engage in the classroom.

How does the foundation help graduating students?

For graduating seniors, we provide an opportunity to apply for a scholarship, to tell their story and be successful in that application. Through our advisers, ... we help them navigate that scary path of the next level of education, not just for students, but for the parents. The parents get anxious. They want their children to do well, so we help provide that through the high school-college advisers.

How do the MEF college advisers operate?

They have an online appointment desk that students can sign up [to] come and talk to their advisers. The advisors are really like superheroes offering that GPS, if you will, for students and families to navigate the financial aid process, the college application process [and] the essay process. Those things that many of the students or parents have not navigated before.

Our advisers can really help navigate what opportunities are out there for [students] with external scholarships and internal scholarships.

How does it feel knowing the MEF can provide that bridge for students graduating high school?

It makes me feel valued. It makes me feel like my work is necessary. I never lose sight of what opportunities are out there for students, and I always try to help where I can. It’s not just students; it’s also about staff [and] teachers. Because budgets are so tight, if we can help them in any way, we certainly want to do that as well.