Brave returning adult students beat the odds, dream big

adult student award event
adult student awards, Derek Kindle speaking
Director of the Office of Student Financial Aid Derek Kindle expressed his pride of students honored at the event. Above photo: Student Angeline Mboutngam

On April 24, single parents, immigrants, veterans, the formerly incarcerated, those struggling with illness, and others mounted a podium at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Memorial Union. All were returning adult students receiving honors at the Adult Student Scholarships and Awards Reception, hosted by Adult Career and Special Student Services (ACSSS). And all shared a single trait: true grit.

Darlene Shafer, single parent of two teens, teared up as she expressed gratitude for getting the Nancy W. Denney Memorial Scholarship. “I come from a rural area 400 miles from the university. We didn’t have a lot of resources, and I think I share that with many students here today. I hope to bring resources back to smaller communities.”

Shafer studies agriculture and applied economics and plans to go to law school.

“It takes an incredible amount of courage to make our way over hurdles,” said Derek Kindle, director of the UW­–Madison Office of Student Financial Aid. “You are the greatest example of what we can do and how we can overcome anything in our way.”

The ceremony honored nearly 50 of these courageous nontraditional learners, who have resumed their academic pursuits while handling all the demands of adult life.

‘I have come a long way’

Jen Proud stepped up with her animal companion to receive the Alma Baron Second Chance for Women Scholarship.

Ahmad Alabboud Alkheder came to Wisconsin as a refugee from Syria. He participated in the UW–Madison Odyssey Project in 2016-17 and is now enrolled as a biology major with plans to attend dental school. He said, “I have come a long way and now I am close to achieving my goal. I’m so grateful.”

Marine Corps veteran Deidre Nieman let nothing get in the way of pursuing her educational goal. As a finalist for an Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award, she said, “My experience in the military and my daughter taught me that the only limits you have are the limits you put on yourself.”

Neiman was recently accepted into the nurse residency program at the VA hospital in Madison.

Angeline Mboutngam, winner of an Outstanding Undergraduate Returning Adult Student Award, spoke of the barriers she faced growing up in Cameroon and the arduous path to her degree in community and nonprofit leadership. When she asked people in the audience who supported her to please stand, more than a dozen–including her beaming husband and four children–stood and clapped as a wide smile spread on Mboutngam’s face.

“It’s humbling to win this award,” she said. “My goal is to keep going, keep teaching my children that whatever obstacles you face, you can do it.”

students clapping at adult student award event
Darlene Shafer claps for fellow students after receiving the Nancy W. Denney Memorial Scholarship.

‘No one can take it away from you’

Students also thanked generous donors who make possible numerous scholarships, including the PLATO (Participatory Learning and Teaching Organization) Scholarship, Bernard Osher Reentry Scholarship, Alma Baron Second Chance for Women Scholarship, and the Stuart Daily Seeds of Learning Scholarship, among many other scholarship funds.

Kindle announced Badger Ready, a new UW–Madison program that will give more returning adults a second chance at an undergraduate degree. “Our goal with the Badger Ready program is to reach more Wisconsin residents with new opportunities,” he said.

At the end of the event, director of ACSSS Martin Rouse thanked students, families, and donors, and shared a quote by B.B. King: “The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you.”

All photos by David Giroux.