Back to school: YUWO scholarship recipients share their stories

Going back to school to get that associate’s or bachelor’s degree you always wanted comes with a lot of challenges, not the least of which is how to pay for it. For women associated with Yale, one option is to apply for a scholarship from the Yale University Women’s Organization, or YUWO, which has awarded 328 scholarships totaling $365,675 in the program’s 44 years.

Past scholarship recipients have a diverse range academic goals, jobs, and family situations. Here, four of them share their thoughts on going back to school in hope of inspiring others to do the same.

A passion for learning

Staff development support specialist Terry Reese had one daughter in high school and the other in college when she decided to get her bachelor’s degree. “It was a tough battle,” she says of her first semesters at Albertus Magnus, where she earned a B.S. in sociology and criminal justice. “The hardest part was getting myself to focus.”

It wasn’t just the academics she found challenging., she says. In the course of her studies, Reese also divorced, sold her house, and helped nurse her basketball-playing high-schooler through a broken leg. Her 25-year-old and her mother each suffered cardiac arrest and had to have double bypass surgery. Reese kept on — nursing them, studying, and continuing to hold down her job. Fortunately, she says, she had supportive professors and a flexible work schedule at Yale.

Going back to school drew Reese closer to her daughters, she says: They even studied together. “I helped them with their homework; now they were helping me with mine,” she says, adding that her 2006 scholarship award “gave us something to be proud of” and also eased the financial strain. “Just knowing I could take a class without tapping into my bank account was a big help.”

Asked if she would do it all again, Reese says “absolutely” — “It was a passion for me. You have to pay the price to get something you want. It was worth it.”

From bookkeeper to accountant

April Bowe was working for the university as s bookkeeper and went back to school to advance her career. A 2004 scholarship recipient, she was already well into studies for her B.S. in Accounting at Southern Connecticut State University when she learned of YUWO’s scholarships. Applying was a no-brainer, she says; she had one more year to pay for and was juggling college costs with other priorities such as paying for childcare for her then-preschool-age son.

“Getting a scholarship allowed me to take an extra course that semester,” she recalls. “It was required for graduation, and I wouldn’t have been able to afford it without the scholarship.” The B.S. she subsequently earned “allowed me to become a manager,” she notes. She subsequently transferred to the Department of Neurology at the School of Medicine, where in January 2010, she was promoted to the post of accountant.

And she hasn’t stopped. In August 2014, she received a Master in Business Administration degree from the University of New Haven, giving her the credentials she needs to continue to advance.

Changing careers

For Katrina Sikorski, who works in Human Resources Operations, education didn’t stop after high school. She earned an associate’s degree in interior design in 1999 and worked in the field for a few years before being laid off. Thanks to the temporary job she got at Yale to tide her over, however, she discovered she preferred business analysis to design.

Sikorski chose to get her degree online from the Empire State College in Saratoga Springs, part of the State University of New York, earning a B.S. in business, management and economics in August 2014. Her efforts resulted in two promotions, to junior business analyst while working on her degree and then to business analyst after she received it.

“Online learning takes an extreme amount of dedication as it requires the individual to take full responsibility for their own learning,” says Sikorski, who took two online courses each term, even through the summer while working full time. But, she adds, “You get a lot more out of your education when you go later in life because you can relate what you’re learning to what you’re doing at work. You also take it more seriously when you’re paying for it yourself.”

Like the other recipients, Sikorski regards her YUWO scholarships, received in 2012 and 2014, as a blessing that lowered her financial stress. “As a single homeowner, my budget was already stretched to the max and I had to rely on loans and financial aid to afford my education. I’m still paying off my loans,” she adds, “but I have a lot less debt than many people I know.”

A path with many twists

Talia Annicelli’s ultimate goal is to become a Forensics Nurse Examiner working with victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault. A YUWO scholarship recipient in both 2014 and 2015, she received her B.S. in nursing from Goodwin College in December 2015 and continues to work as an administrative assistant in the School of Medicine while she applies for nursing jobs.

“I’m so relieved,” she says, “it’s been such a long road.” After graduating from high school in 2007, Annicelli spent a year in college before withdrawing to start a family. (She and her husband divorced in 2012; her daughters will be four and six this year.) She went back to school in 2011 while pregnant with her second child and began studying for an associate’s degree in health sciences in July 2012, the month her maternity leave ended. She earned that degree from Goodwin College, East Hartford, Connecticut, in 2013 and then entered its nursing school in 2014 after completing the prerequisites. It wasn’t until early 2015, she says, that she felt she had finally found “a nice rhythm, balancing life and school.”

Receiving scholarships took a load off financially, she says, and gave her a special boost because she felt that someone else appreciated what she was doing.

“It will all be worth it once I have that license in my hands,” says Annicelli, who expects to receive her nursing license this January. She ultimately wants to work in forensic nursing. “I can’t wait to begin my nursing career,” she says.

To apply for a YUWO scholarship or find out more about the program, visit www.yale.edu/yuwo/scholarships.html and follow the links. Feb. 15 is the application deadline for scholarships for 2016 summer courses and the 2016-2017 academic year.