Scholarships Help Youths Complete College on Time

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Last week – in a blog posting I wrote about the biggest enemies to timely completion of college – I mentioned  how scholarships can help youths defeat the enemy that is the lack of money.

At a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration hosted by a youth-serving agency here in Washington, D.C., I saw tangible evidence and a refreshing reminder of just how helpful scholarships can be in this regard.

Ramoa Hemmings and Sharnetta Tyler were both 2005 recipients of the Joseph A. Beavers Scholarship established by United Planning Organization, one of the District’s largest human service providers.

Today, both young women are also 2009 college graduates who are gainfully employed and who’ve found labors of love.

Hemmings, who went to Virginia Tech with plans to major in horticulture, is now a world-traveled horticulturalist at the Walt Disney Corp. in Orlando, Fla. Among other things, she does soilless gardening to produce food crops for the Walt Disney Corp.’s restaurants in Disney World.

Tyler is an English teacher at McFarland Middle School in Washington, where her classes feature Friday “poetry slams” and other events that she uses to make her English class more appealing to her students, who all hail from the some of the same D.C. neighborhoods where Tyler grew up.

Both Hemmings and Tyler told Youth Today that scholarships were the only way they were able to finish college in four years. Hemmings got a $5,000 scholarship from UPO and Tyler got a $12,000 scholarship from the organization.

Hemmings, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, said scholarships paid for 85 percent of her tuition at Virginia Tech. She worked a job, but it was only to stay busy, not out of necessity. Today, she says, she is 100 percent debt-free and doing what she loves.

“As I kid, I always liked to play with plants,” Hemmings said. “I never knew I could make a career out of it.” She spends some of her time at work educating and interacting with the many children who trek to Disney World.

Tyler said scholarships took the stress out of paying for her education at Georgetown University. She says she even has money left over from her UPO scholarship for grad school and plans to go to law school. Her ultimate goal is to become a lawyer in the field of education policy. She took time off from her studies to get classroom experience for her legal practice in the future.

Tyler said of all the causes to which one can donate, scholarships for youths are the best investments a person could make.

Both Hemmings and Tyler also credit UPO staff, namely, scholarship coordinator Cynthia Johnson, with staying in touch with them and providing encouragement and support over their four-year college experiences.

Clearly, both women did what they had to do to get through school. But without the financial and other support they both got from UPO and other organizations, both agree that their four-year college experience could have easily been a five- or six-year experience that would still be dragging out. Or, worse, it could have ended without their even earning a degree.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim covers College & Careers with a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. He can be reached at Jamaal@youthtoday.org