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University of Wyoming Foundation

Donor Stories

An Education Lifeline

Elizabeth Mendoza

What stands in the way of someone getting a university education? Of course the cost of tuition and books is the first thing that comes to mind. But what other things can present stumbling blocks?

The cost of living—rent, food, and other essentials—certainly is a consideration. Does the student have a family, a spouse and kids? These require time and money. What if they are single and don’t have a spouse to help with the bills and childcare? How about distance? Maybe the student lives in small-town Wyoming and has obligations that keep them there. Maybe, too, the student is a bit older, and the thought of competing with traditional high school graduates is daunting.

All these obstacles can quickly mount up and deter even the most determined and dedicated of students.

Take the case of Elizabeth Mendoza of Torrington. She was a single mother with three kids. She had received an associate’s degree from Eastern Wyoming College in 1996, but she later found herself in a dead-end job with no hope of bettering herself or her children. She couldn’t come to Laramie to go to school and she was her family’s sole support.

Take the case of Renae Ragsdale of Lander. As a child, there was no mention of Renae going to college, and she was a teenage mom twice over before her mother was tragically murdered. Despite that, in the midst of it all, she was able to earn her GED. Eventually, she and her husband had two more children, but they wanted a better future for themselves and their boys.

A scholarship that goes beyond simple tuition and books has made all the difference in these women’s lives.

Established by a generous but anonymous donor, the Edelweiss Fund helps non-traditional female first-generation college students, preferably Wyoming residents, who are taking Outreach School classes. Preference is given to working mothers who show academic promise in their degree field. Funds can be used not only for tuition and books but also for food and rent and childcare, and the support extends for up to six years. This is a truly remarkable level of support.

Not only that—students need not apply every year, and once they receive the award it is theirs for up to six years. They simply need to maintain their grade averages. This alleviates students’ concerns about dropped funding or the standards changing. The Edelweiss scholarship gives the students the comfort of knowing that they are taken care of.

Renae RagsdaleElizabeth and Renae were the first recipients of this extraordinary scholarship. Since receiving it, Elizabeth has earned a degree from the College of Business in 2010, and now she works for St. Joseph Children’s Home as a billing specialist. She continues her online education in the field of medical coding and billing and has recently become engaged. Renae, along with her family, just moved to Laramie to complete her bachelor’s in professional childhood development this spring. She plans to take her GRE and apply to the UW master’s program in speech pathology in the fall.

“It totally took a lot of pressure off my schedule,” says Elizabeth. “I didn’t have to worry about my work schedule. I could keep up with the bills and put food on the table for the kids, while focusing a lot better on my courses. A lot of good things have happened in my life, and it’s a step to better myself and my children.”

“I would like to express my gratitude for the scholarship and the support,” says Renae. “It’s helped out tremendously in a lot of ways—tuition and books. You know when to expect money during the month. Otherwise we would be struggling to know how to manage school part time and work part time. I am just really grateful.”

Edelweiss scholars also say that the pledge of funding until completion is like being adopted. The program makes them feel part of a loving and supportive family and connects the students with each other, even though they did not know each other previously and live in different parts of Wyoming. More than a financial commitment, the support is very personal, and it reaffirms the students’ intentions to better themselves. They believe in the program’s commitment to them and that the donor family personally ascribes great worth to their educational endeavors.

Top photo: Elizabeth Mendoza
Bottom photo: Renae Ragsdale


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