Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Scholarship paves path for 44-year-old student

Tammy Day holds her scholarship award
plaque presented by Kelle Bingham
from the Chandler Service Club. 
On May 14, Tammy Day experienced something she never imagined would happen to her — she received a $3,500 scholarship from the Chandler Service Club for her academic and personal achievements.

Day, a 44-year-old Chandler-Gilbert Community College student, was diagnosed in elementary school with a learning disability and placed in remedial classes. This, combined with being overweight, made her a target and she was teased and bullied throughout school. At age 15, she ran away from home. Life was overwhelming and she turned to drugs, losing any motivation to apply herself in classes.

“By then, getting a ‘D’ in a class was an accomplishment,” said Day. She quit high school in the ninth grade. At age 18, she decided to go back to school to earn her GED, taking night classes and passing with the lowest score possible.

“I really thought getting a GED was the top of education for me,” said Day. “College never even crossed my mind.”

Knowing she wanted to make a difference, she became an avid volunteer and found her passion in helping the elderly. She spent the next 13 years working with them and the disabled.

“One day I asked a co-worker who happened to be a social worker how I could do her job. She said I would need a college degree,” said Day. “I was hitting my late thirties and had completely lost all hope of returning to school, so I continued to volunteer.

At 40, Day made a life-changing decision and enrolled in community college when a friend suggested she return to school to pursue her dream of becoming a social worker. Her first semester was challenging and awkward, feeling uncomfortable among a much-younger student body. She had decided to withdraw when one of her professors, Patrick Williams, convinced her to attend an on-campus lecture by author, speaker and refugee Mawi Asgedom.

“I try to inspire each student to reach their fullest potential,” said Williams, English faculty. “Tammy was working hard to keep up and was making excellent use of the resources on campus. Having a good sense of her personality from class, I thought she might really benefit from the speaker.”

“I think there is something each individual wants or needs to hear, and when we do, it empowers us to move forward,” said Day. “This is what happened to me. Mawi Asgedom completely changed my life.”

Day stuck with her classes that semester and earned a 4.0, a grade point average she has maintained since.

“Tammy has a compelling story and we were impressed by her persistence and hard work,” said Kelle Bingham of the Chandler Service Club, which restructured and combined their scholarship programs this year and awarded Tammy with enough funding to pay tuition, books and related expenses for an entire year through the  Helen Pernell and Jewel Lewis Memorial Community Scholarship. “Although we have always awarded a scholarship to re-entry students, we changed the program this year to focus on providing enough funding for an entire year so students don’t have to worry about finding multiple sources of support.”

For Day, who works part-time as a private duty caregiver, it is another life-changing experience.         “Having the scholarship and knowing that I’m halfway to my associates degree makes me feel like I can do this,” Day said, who plans to go on to earn a master’s degree and write a book. “If I can do it, with my history, others can too. As Mawi Asgedom said, ‘Never, never, never give up.’”

To learn more about helping students succeed through scholarships, contact Cindy Barnes Pharr, dean of community affairs, at 480-732-7093.

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