“Growing up poor was something that I rarely ever shared with my friends because all of their families had money, so I knew they wouldn’t understand my struggle.” -Sharon ’22
The child of Taiwanese immigrants, Sharon endured the loss of her father and stepfather all before her high school graduation. After these deaths, Sharon lived with her mother, whose significant grief posed a major challenge. In addition to their grief, the single parent family faced financial hardship, but Sharon never lost hope of her dream. The tenacious student switched public high schools several times to attend the best and most rigorous school she could find.
She achieved academic success, despite working two jobs to help her mother make ends meet and participating in numerous extracurricular activities. All this hard work and struggle was in pursuit of a big dream—a college education leading to a fulfilling career and happy life.
“Besides working to help my mom, I did all these activities to make myself the most competitive applicant I could be because I knew I could not afford college without a scholarship,” she said.
Sharon had a plan. She knew of Berea College through three older cousins who are also Berea alumni and have gone on to impressive Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) careers. She was aware of Berea’s Tuition Promise Scholarship and the College’s mission to serve talented students from low-wealth families. Sharon knew she would fit in at Berea and that her classmates would be able to relate to her experiences.
“I knew that Berea served low-income students,” Sharon said. “Growing up poor was something that I rarely ever shared with my friends because all of their families had money, so I knew they wouldn’t understand my struggle. At Berea, I am able to connect with my friends here on a deeper and more comfortable level. I am surrounded with people that I know won’t judge you based on your financial situation, because they also know what that is like.” Because Berea only admits students of academic promise who come from low-wealth families, Sharon never had to feel inferior for having less than her peers.
Besides knowing that Berea was designed for students just like her, Sharon said she knew Berea would offer both the academic rigor she craved, but also the support she needed to succeed. She chose Berea knowing that faculty mentor and guide students closely, giving them the tools they need to go on to graduate school or into the workforce.
“Besides the money factor, what motivated me to choose Berea was the relationships professors had with their students,” she said. “They genuinely care about the well-being of their students. At larger universities, due to class size or just habit, professors may barely know all of their students. At Berea, I knew I would get the academic support I needed to succeed in college. Many professors here will reach out personally to individual students to check-in. Not only on an academic level, but they are also open to general conversations about life. They are not only professors but also mentors.”
Sharon has achieved impressive success at Berea as she works toward her goal of applying to medical school. She takes challenging courses, works in two on-campus labor positions (all Berea students work on campus at least ten hours per week), and leads two student clubs. One of her endeavors is managing a lecture series called Women in STEM, which involves inviting female scientists from all over Kentucky to participate in mini-conference events.
Sharon also completed an impressive summer research internship at Vanderbilt University—quite a feat for an undergraduate. This invaluable internship was thanks to a partnership setup by a Berea alumnus. The Vanderbilt internship gave her exposure to the research side of the medical field and introduced her to the thrill of applying her scientific talent to real-world research questions. She also connected with research professionals, who have now become mentors, through seminars and labs. The internship is all part of Sharon’s intentional plan for her future. She is now considering a dual MD and Ph.D. program but is also interested in traditional medicine, or perhaps oncology. All along the way, Berea’s faculty and support programs for students have been there to guide and assist Sharon.
“The STEM faculty consistently challenge me in class, specifically to develop critical thinking and study skills, which are so crucial for medical school,” she said. “Also, the Career Development Office gives funding for MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) prep, professional wear, and travel costs for interviews, all of which can be so expensive! My professors are always willing to connect me with their colleagues, and this will be beneficial for medical school and post medical school. I know Berea will propel me into a field I want to pursue with adequate resources and support.”
Clearly, Sharon has much to offer the world. Her intellect and unrelenting determination are key to a bright and happy future—she just needed the resources Berea provides for talented students from low-wealth families. Like her classmates and many Bereans who have gone before her, Sharon has overcome so much to find success at Berea.
Because you and others give generously, students like Sharon find a stable and enriching environment at Berea College, complete with faculty mentorship and the kind of support programs needed to help students from families with limited means make connections in the professional world.
Please, help Sharon and her classmates by making a gift today. Sharon is a reflection of what is possible through your support—every person she will help during her medical career is thanks in part to you.
By giving to Berea College, you make a success like Sharon’s possible. Your giving helps Sharon and her classmates do great things in the world.