Students Face Obstacles but Persevere, Scholarships Awarded at TRiO Ceremony

Published: April 16, 2009 | Read Time: 5 minutes

Three Southern Utah University students received scholarships and much-deserved recognition at the TriO Achiever Awards ceremony on Wednesday afternoon. Such recognition is a culmination of years of hard work and perseverance by the recipients to overcome educational barriers that deter many from seeing their higher education course through to graduation. 

Senior accounting major Shauna Johnson, a first-generation college student, has high hopes to graduate with honors this upcoming December and begin working as an accountant. However, were you to ask her of plans for the future just four years ago, college was still followed with a question mark and mathematics was no less intimidating than a great white shark in open water. Of her first week at SUU, Johnson recalls, I was ready to go home and never come back.” It wasn’t until Shauna was referred to the SSC, that Johnson’s academic plans began to take shape toward a degree. 

According to Executive Director of SSC Lynne Brown, “Many first generation students face barriers that do not exist for those who have grown up with a basic understanding of higher education through the experiences of others within their family. They oftentimes feel lost, as the college atmosphere presents an entirely new culture without a reference point.” Johnson agrees this explanation is a perfect summation of her own experience as a freshman Thunderbird. 

Brown describes Shauna’s academic progress as “slow but steady” in the beginning, and now, Johnson is really excelling in a very difficult major. Of her success, Brown says “Shauna personifies exactly what we want in our students,” and now Johnson is on track to graduate near the top of her class if her final two semesters go as planned. Shauna credits the help she received through the SSC with her academic success. 

Though the circumstances that brought senior nursing major Brenda Bentley to the Student Success Center we very different, the results—new-found scholastic confidence and success—are very similar to Johnson. 

Bentley registered as a non-traditional student at the same time her son was also joining SUU’s student body, and in addition to very little exposure to the higher ed. environment, Bentley was struggling to balance her school work with a full-time job and caring for four children as a single mom. 

According to Brenda, “Math was the thing that most intimidated me; I have always struggled with math.” Regardless, Bentley knew she would have to overcome that anxiety if she was going to be successful in the nursing program, and with the help of the SSC, she learned that her struggles were due to the fact that she unknowingly transposed numbers when calculating equations. Once Bentley understood the way her mind was misprocessing numbers, she was able to work with her advisors and professors to find a way to circumvent that automatic response. Bentley is proud to report that not only can she now do math at a much higher level and with more confidence, but she also passed the drug calculation test that is part of the LPN exams with 100 percent accuracy. 

Brenda will graduate this December with a BSN degree, and says she would not have been able to reach this point without Student Support services. Beyond the financial support she has received, she says the SSC staff provided the emotional support to help her face – and beat – the odds. Says Bentley, “They told me again and again, ‘you can do this; you really can,’ and having their support and knowing someone else believed in me mad all the difference.” 

And though her time at SUU will draw to a close after one final semester next fall, Brenda claims to have so much enjoyed her time as a student that she hopes to continue taking classes – this time art instead of math and science – “just for fun.” 

And finally, the third TRiO award and scholarship went to senior business management major Chip Sanders. 

Sanders came to SUU four years ago as a non-traditional student after re-evaluating his current professional circumstances. According to Chip, “I really struggled through high school and college never really seemed like an option.” When he did finally decide to pursue a college degree, Chip clearly recalls thinking that although academics had always been challenging, “it was going to be different this time because this time, I wanted to be there and was ready to learn.” 

However, this resolution alone was not enough, and after finding school just as problematic as ever, Sanders sought the help of the SSC. The Center’s testing services diagnosed Sanders with dyslexia, and for Sanders, this diagnosis was welcome news. He states, “It was a huge relief to learn more about myself and the way I do learn.” 

According to his advisor within the SSC, Carmen Alldredge, “Chip is a person that never gives up. He has worked hard to find solutions to his obstacles rather than letting them keep him from his goals.” And for Chip, though his journey toward academic and professional success has been at times, arduous, he now feels confident and prepared to pursue life as a successful college graduate after completing his schooling next December. 

Shauna, Benda and Chip are all shining examples of the qualities SUU seeks to foster within its students. Though their stories are all very unique, these three students represent the positive attitudes, exemplary citizenship and consistent academic progress that underlie the basic mission of SUU’s Student Support Center (SSC), and their efforts stand as inspiration to both their peers and mentors of the success that can come of hard work and determination.

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