Whether returning to school to explore a new career path, or attending college for the first time, every student attending South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) has a unique journey leading to their enrollment at the college. And woven into that journey for many students, are scholarships and financial assistance offered by the South Puget Sound Community College Foundation. Awarding over a half million dollars in financial assistance each year, the SPSCC Foundation works to support students’ academic and career goals.

Pursuing a degree in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Technology program, SPSCC student and scholarship recipient, Laura Nixon is learning important skills for employment in the building construction and design field. Photo courtesy: Laura Nixon

For SPSCC student, Laura Nixon, the college has served as a turning point in life, offering opportunities for additional education and a renewed career path. Previously employed in the human resources field, Nixon’s job matched her prior experience, but Nixon says she did not find the work fulfilling. Wanting to change course, Nixon worked with support from a mental health worker to reflect on her path in life.

During this time of reflection, Nixon rediscovered her childhood dream of becoming an architect. To evaluate if the architecture and design field was right for her, Nixon took a first step by signing up for an AutoCAD course at a technical school in Bellingham. While completing the course, Nixon determined that building design was indeed the path she wanted to pursue.

After learning that the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Technology program at SPSCC aligns perfectly with her goals, Nixon decided to move to Olympia, start over and enroll in the program. As a current SPSCC student, Nixon has received several scholarships from the SPSCC Foundation, which has been a great help in her new educational path.

“The scholarships I’ve received have alleviated a tremendous amount of financial stress from my shoulders,” says Nixon. “Together with a frugal lifestyle, they have allowed me to only need a work-study job in order to get by each quarter. I believe that without any financial assistance from SPSCC I would not be completing my program as quickly, or at all.”

One particular scholarship holds special meaning for Nixon is the Chehalis Tribes Friendship Scholarship, which, for her, serves as a reminder of the generosity within the community. “The most memorable scholarship I received was The Chehalis Tribes Friendship Scholarship, which was open to all students not eligible for their tribal scholarship,” explains Nixon. “It helped me to realize that my community was supporting my education through their kindness, and it was a very touching moment for me.”

With two application cycles per academic year, the SPSCC Foundation provides over $450,000 in scholarships for students studying a wide range of subjects. With almost 400 scholarships available this year, many award amounts range from $500 to $4,000.

The SPSCC Foundation grants almost half a million dollars in scholarships to students each academic year, with almost 400 scholarships available this year. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

Students applying for scholarships from the SPSCC Foundation fill out a single application to be considered for a range of Foundation scholarships, submitting a personal essay, transcript, course of study and letters of recommendation.

For Nixon, the application process was straightforward, turning in the proper paperwork, including her personal essay in which she shared her story leading up to her studies at SPSCC. “The hardest part of the process for me was the personal essay,” explains Nixon. “I have always been an independent person, so writing about myself in a way that showed my financial vulnerability was hard. I had to constantly remind myself that life is tough and it’s ok to ask for help when you need it.”

After an application has been submitted, a team of faculty and staff volunteers review each student’s personal essay and academic history. A pair of volunteers grade the applications, following standardized criteria to determine the application’s quality. Then, a computer program determines specific scholarships for which a student might qualify. The scholarships available through the SPSCC Foundation are funded by a mix of donors, including individual community members, local businesses and nonprofit organizations. Scholarships may be specific to students studying a particular pathway, like nursing or the arts, or awards may be available to students studying any subject.

Scholarships from the SPSCC Foundation are generally applied to tuition, but can also help to fund additional college expenses like books and fees, depending on a student’s financial aid package. In addition to scholarships, the SPSCC Foundation also awards over $120,000 in Student Success Grants, a type of emergency funding to help students continue their education, despite an unforeseen financial hardship. A student can apply for a Student Success Grant if they have an emergent financial need that will help to ensure student success, including for transportation, learning technology or healthcare expenses.

Providing support to students, the SPSCC Foundation also awards Student Success Grants, a kind of emergency funding to help students continue their education, despite an unforeseen financial hardship. Photo credit: Molly Walsh

“I have received a Student Success Grant from the Foundation to cover an unexpected dental cost,” says Nixon. “The tooth extraction was not covered by my dental insurance and came at a time when I was simultaneously struggling with a severe gut infection and entering the final weeks of the Winter 2020 quarter. The financial assistance they provided with the grant took a huge weight from my mind and helped me to focus on healing my body and successfully completing my winter courses.”

Pursuing a degree in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Technology program at SPSCC, Nixon is learning vital skills for employment in the building construction and design field. After graduation, Nixon hopes to become a virtual design and construction coordinator, working with subcontractors to create detailed models from proposed building plans.

“I am looking to enter the VDC/BIM field as a virtual modeler for a mechanical contractor,” says Nixon. “A position like this would allow me to continue enhancing my virtual modelling skills, help me to better understand the workings of a building’s mechanical systems, and would be a great step in my desired direction.”

To learn more about the scholarships available, or the application process, visit the South Puget Sound Community College Foundation website.

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