NRF Foundation Awards More Than $100,000 in 2021 Student Scholarships


“The future of retail is in very good hands, and our scholarship recipients are prime examples of that.” 

Bill Thorne
 NRF Foundation Executive Director

WASHINGTON – The NRF Foundation announced the recipients of its scholarship competitions in January during NRF 2021: Retail's Big Show — Chapter 1, awarding more than $100,000 to undergraduate students.

“The future of retail is in very good hands, and our scholarship recipients are prime examples of that,” NRF Foundation Executive Director Bill Thorne said. “We are proud to recognize them as future industry leaders, and we look forward to following their journeys as they build extraordinary careers.”

The top recipient of the NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship is Amaiya Sims, a senior at Columbia College Chicago. She received $25,000 in the scholarship sponsored by SAS.

“From here, my biggest thing is being ready to share my story and encouraging other students to go for all of these wonderful opportunities and experiences,” said Sims, a fashion merchandising major who will graduate this spring and join Kohl’s as a merchant in training.  

The Next Generation Scholarship included a case study created in collaboration with PetSmart Inc. Retail executives judged the case studies, and five finalists were selected after interviews with members of the NRF Foundation Board of Directors.

In addition to Sims, four other finalists received $10,000 each.

“Congratulations to Amaiya Sims, this year’s top recipient, and all finalists in the 2021 NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship,” SAS Vice President of Global Retail and CPG Solutions Richard Widdowson said. “We’re proud to support this program in its mission to help emerging retail leaders gain a firm foothold in our industry.”  

The Next Generation Scholarship was created for students who have previous retail experience and have demonstrated leadership skills and a passion for making an impact. Since 2014, more than $890,000 has been awarded through the scholarship program.

The top team in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge was also announced during Retail’s Big Show.

Ellie Smith, Etheline Ting and Emily Wilken from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) each received a $6,000 scholarship. For the competition, they pitched small space solutions to Target with a furniture and home goods line designed to appeal to people who are using their home as their workspace due to the pandemic.

“This was an opportunity to dive in really deep into sustainability and the supply chain, and learn how to bring a product to fruition,” Smith said. “We worked so hard on this and we genuinely had so much fun.”

Each student on the second-place team from the Savannah College of Art & Design received $3,500. Members of the third-place team – also from FIDM – were awarded $2,500 each. Learn more about the top three teams.

Since its launch, more than $330,000 in funds have been awarded through the NRF Foundation Student Challenge.

Applications for the NRF Foundation scholarship program are now open. Undergraduate students of all majors at NRF University Member schools are invited to participate. Recipients will be announced in January 2022.

The NRF Foundation continues to offer free programming focused on career opportunities in the retail industry. Spring NRF Foundation All Access is underway now with recruiter chats, mentoring opportunities, on-demand conversations with retail professionals and a virtual career fair scheduled for Feb. 19.

Meet the five NRF Foundation Next Generation Scholarship finalists:  

Meet the top three teams in the NRF Foundation Student Challenge:

About NRF

The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, passionately advocates for the people, brands, policies and ideas that help retail thrive. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., NRF empowers the industry that powers the economy. Retail is the nation’s largest private-sector employer, contributing $3.9 trillion to annual GDP and supporting one in four U.S. jobs — 52 million working Americans. For over a century, NRF has been a voice for every retailer and every retail job, educating, inspiring and communicating the powerful impact retail has on local communities and global economies.

About NRF Foundation

The NRF Foundation provides the skills and resources needed for a life-changing career. As NRF's nonprofit 501(c)(3), we connect people to an industry that’s a great place to start and a great place to grow. Together, we help people build better lives and stronger communities.