At first glance, Jessica Walker of Collinsville could pass for a high school student. But the 29-year-old mother of two has already completed an associate’s degree at East Mississippi Community College and enrolled at MSU-Meridian in the spring as an elementary education major.
Walker was recognized recently along with 60 other outstanding transfer students as a recipient of the Riley Next Step Scholarship at MSU-Meridian.
The Riley Next Step Scholarship program is designed to recognize outstanding transfer students from East Central Community College, East Mississippi Community College, Jones County Junior College and Meridian Community College.
Known as Riley Scholars, they receive full tuition at Mississippi State University-Meridian for two years or four semesters. Since its inception in the fall of 2010, The Riley Foundation has awarded $850,000 for the scholarship program and 188 individuals have received the Riley Next Step Scholarship thanks to the foundation and other donors.
According to Dr. Steven Brown, dean and associate vice president of MSU-Meridian, “Mississippi State University, and particularly our Meridian campus, is deeply indebted to the officers and directors of The Riley Foundation for their continued and extraordinary support.”
Brown also notes that a growth in student academic levels have been noted in the past few years and he remains firmly convinced that this improvement may be traced in great measure to the outstanding funding provided by The Riley Foundation.
“After talking with the presidents of area community colleges, I am convinced that the Riley Next Step Scholarship makes clear to their students that they do indeed have an opportunity, through this scholarship, to complete a four-year degree, something some of the students might not otherwise achieve once leaving their respective community college.”
That was the situation for Walker whose journey to earn a degree began about 10 years ago, right after she married. She enrolled at Meridian Community College with plans to major in elementary education.
“But,” said Walker, “life kind of got in the way and we were strapped financially so I put my plans to earn a degree on the back burner and went to work. A few years later our son Conner was born and I became a stay-at-home mom.”
A few years later, to help out their growing family, which included the birth of a daughter, Caroline Grace, Walker began cleaning houses.
“One day I was praying while I cleaned and I asked the Lord to use me — however He saw fit. To my surprise He showed me very clearly that He wanted me to go back to school and be a teacher and finish what I had started all those years ago.”
“To be honest, going back to school had never even entered my mind,” Walker said. “But my husband, when I told him my plans, said ‘great’ and then told me he’d wondered when I was going to realize what everyone else already knew — that I was meant to be a teacher .”
She enrolled in EMCC and one day, one of the school’s counselors told her about the Riley Next Step Scholarship.
“Although my grades weren’t the best at the time when I heard about the scholarship opportunity and knew I would need to earn at least a 3.0 to be considered — well it motivated me to work even harder. I was determined to get my grades up where they needed to be.”
Walker is grateful to be a recipient of the scholarship and she’s used the gift she received as a teachable moment with her children.
“I want my kids to understand that hard work pays off,” said Walker. “I’ve also told them about the generous donors that are helping their Mommy realize her dreams. I want them to know that there are people in this community that believe so strongly in higher education that they are willing to give so others can earn a degree. I think that’s a life lesson worth teaching about.”
RILEY NEXT STEP DETAILS
The deadline for anyone interested in applying for the Riley Next Step Scholarship for the spring 2013 semester is Thursday.
Scholarship criteria includes: Admission to MSU-Meridian and completed scholarship resume; completion of at least 48 hours of transferable community college courses applicable to a bachelor's degree at MSU-Meridian; competitive scholarship grade point average; and full-time enrollment (at least 12 hours).
For more information visit the website www.meridian.msstate.edu.