Saleemah Morris, a single mom who wanted a career where she could advocate for others, overcame many obstacles on her educational journey.
Morris managed the task of a work/school balance. She kept her teenage son focused on school and applying for college himself. She took the maximum amount of courses to stay on track to earn her degree in four years.
“College wasn’t something that was stressed to me growing up. I married young and got a job to pay the bills. But I always knew that I wanted to help others. I want to be a voice for those in need.”
And when she faced personal hardships on the way to her degree, she discovered an advocate for her—her soon-to-be alma mater.
Morris received a College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (CASL) Get-to-Graduation Fund scholarship, a need-based award that helps students nearing graduation complete their degree. The award varies depending on the student situation.
“When I got sick, I lost my job, my car, my house. I was worried to lose my future too,“ said Morris, who stayed focused on her education even after diagnosed with a debilitating medical condition for low hemoglobin where she needed repeated blood transfusions. “I always was able to help myself figure things out before I got sick. All the determination in the world couldn’t have helped me. But the Get to Graduation Fund did. It saved my life. I cannot even put into words how grateful I am.”
CASL Dean Marty Hershock said the award was established last fall in response to stories he’d hear about students who were just short of fulfilling their degree and couldn’t finish because they had depleted financial resources due to difficult circumstances.
He was told about financial aid eligibility running out because a student had to prolong their college experience to balance work, a lack of aid to defray the cost of summer courses that leads to unpaid balances and registration holds, or—in some cases like Morris’—unexpected life situations.
“No matter the cause, the result is always the same; students—many of whom come from underrepresented groups and/or economically challenged populations—drift away from the university without ever completing their degree,” he said. “For these students, the negative effects are double. They lack the credential needed to ensure a strong economic foundation for themselves and their family, and they are denied the personal fulfillment of meeting an individual transformational goal.”
Hershock and the CASL Dean’s Advisory Council wanted to do something to help. So they created the CASL Get to Graduation Fund.
“Response to this match was immediate and very positive and, in the course of one day, the college raised $15,000 to support these deserving students,” said Hershock, noting that the dean’s council members pledged money to offer as matching funds to incentivize gifts to the fund on last November’s Giving Blueday.
The Get to Graduation scholarships, given for the first time this spring, are helping seven students complete their studies.
And because of this fund, Morris—whose health has improved and is now back to balancing work and school and getting her son ready for high school graduation—is looking forward to wearing her cap and gown on April 30.
“I have gumption and I worked very hard to make it to where I did. But without this fund, I have no idea what I would have done. When I had fallen, the university lifted me up,” said Morris, who is in the Student Outreach and Academic Resources (SOAR) program. “Thank you is not even enough. There are no words to express what the university means to me. After I graduate, I’ll be back to volunteer on campus. I want to do what I can to help others like the people here have done for me.”
If you’d like to impact a student by contributing to the CASL Get to Graduation Fund, give now.