An unimaginable dream: An evening of awards for nontraditional students

Man puts cowboy hat on Bucky Badger's head
Allen Philo is a farmer who went back to school to earn a degree in soil science. Above: Tenzin Kunsang and Maryan Mohamud. (Photos by Sharon Vanorny)

What’s it like to be a returning adult student at UW-Madison? On April 26, many of the nearly 50 people honored at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Adult Student Scholarships and Awards Reception shared their stories.

To these adults, a college education seemed an unimaginable dream, or one that had slipped away as the years passed. Each faced hardships, often tragic ones, on their path to a college degree. Universally, they expressed thanks to their families and friends—and their gratitude for the scholarships or awards that not only helped financially, but reminded them that others saw something remarkable in them.

How we deal with adversity

Jeffrey S. Russell, the vice-provost for lifelong learning and dean of Continuing Studies, which organized the ceremony, shared his own challenges as a graduate student and commended the awardees for how well they dealt with adversity.

“You start asking yourself, can I do this? Is this for me? And somehow, thanks to the inspiration of the people around you, you find the confidence and the passion to say yes. Yes I can,” said Russell.

Two generations, challenging each other

Woman waves with Bucky Badger
Miao-ching Marjorie Liu is working toward a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy analysis.

Yasmin Horton, winner of the Lisa Munro Two Generation Scholarship, stood proudly with her granddaughter Lakaya. With the help of her son, she received her GED in 2005, and was accepted into the UW Odyssey Project in 2006. The Odyssey Project provides a humanities class and college credit for adult students who face economic barriers to college. Horton went on to earn a B.S. in social work, and is now completing her master’s in social work from UW-Madison. Her granddaughter is in the Odyssey Jr. program, intent on becoming a photographer.

“I pursued the wrong type of education for many years,” said Horton, while her granddaughter beamed. “Odyssey opened my world. It’s surreal that I’m here, preparing to graduate with a master’s degree.”

I can’t believe I’m standing here’

Fifteen scholarships or awards were handed out during the reception, and many had two or more winners. Among them are the Alma Baron Second Chance for Women Scholarship, Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Awards, the Stuart Daily Seeds of Learning Scholarship, the PLATO Scholarship, and the Bernard Osher Reentry Scholarship, which had 17 recipients.

Division of Continuing Studies faculty and staff pose with the Wisconsin W hands
Faculty and staff from UW-Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies celebrate the winners.

As they walked up to the stage, some with smiles and others in tears, many of the awardees expressed their amazement at being here—at this university, at this moment in their academic career, and at being honored in this way.

“I can’t believe I’m standing here,” said Jennifer Bradley, who juggled full-time studies, full-time employment, volunteer work, and caring for her epileptic daughter. “You’ve helped me overcome the financial barriers and now I’m on my way to get my master’s degree.”

“Without you, my education would not have been possible. You have nurtured and inspired me,” said Tenzin Kunsang, the daughter of Tibetan refugees, who delayed her educational dreams to help her family. “When I have my nursing and global health degrees, I will go to communities that lack the resources for healthcare.”

‘We are always here for you’

Judith Strand, associate dean and director of Adult Career and Special Student Services, ended the evening with a sentiment shared by all of the staff and faculty at the Division of Continuing Studies.

“All of you have shown excellence as students and as members of your community,” she said. “We thank you for the wealth of talent and diversity you bring to UW-Madison. Your presence enriches all of us.”

Strand concluded, “In the years to come, you will find advice and homes across campus and in the workplace. Remember that UW-Madison is also your home, and we are always here for you.”

For another perspective on the Adult Student Scholarships and Awards Reception, see David Giroux’s Project 365 Photo Journal.