Down but never out: Scholarship helps student finish degree

Laquisha Robinson

The Finish Your Degree Scholarship aided nursing student Laquisha Robinson in finishing her BSN at UMSL. She is now a staff nurse at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care in Clayton, Mo. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Pregnant at 15. A teenage mother at 16. At an age when most people are thinking about driving and going to prom, Laquisha Robinson was struggling against becoming just another statistic.

After graduating from Hazelwood Central High School in Florissant, Mo., she enrolled at the University of Missouri–St. Louis majoring in accounting. The year was 2003. Two years later she dropped out and enrolled at St. Louis Community College–Florissant Valley. What followed resembled a revolving door. She’d finish one semester, then drop out for two before re-enrolling and repeating the pattern.

In 2010, now a single mother of three, she was determined to finally get her degree. She returned to UMSL with a new attitude and career focus. She wanted to be a nurse.

“I wasted a lot of time. I utilized a lot of financial resources that were available to me. I knew that I didn’t have room to make mistakes. I needed to stick with it this time,” she says. “It was a constant struggle working from check to check and trying to take care of my children. I wanted to change my life around, live comfortably and set a good example for my kids.”

She was accepted into the College of Nursing’s BSN Traditional Part-Time Option program. Her academic focus was solid, but her finances were shaky. Her last year of school was a struggle. Her grants were capped and she couldn’t get any more funding, she’d maxed out her student loans and she didn’t have any money. With no family to turn to, she sold household items on Craigslist. Friends helped when they could.

“I got through the summer of 2013, but by fall of 2013 I was pretty much tapped out. I really didn’t have any more money,” she says.

Then she wrote to UMSL’s Office of Financial Aid pleading for help and filled out a slew of scholarship applications, including one called the Finish Your Degree Scholarship. The scholarship assists seniors who demonstrate financial need.

Robinson was in clinical rotations at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital when she scanned her emails and learned she’d earned the scholarship.

“It told me what the award amount was, and then it said ‘Now your balance is zero.’ I was in total disbelief,” she says.

Robinson was so excited she took a victory lap around the hospital floor.

“My preceptor was sitting next to me, I gave her a big hug, and then I did a small sprint around the hospital floor. I was just totally excited,” she says. “I didn’t want to give up just because I didn’t have the money to pay for school. Without the scholarship, I would not have been able to finish that semester at all. Plus, it allowed me to focus on just finishing out school. I didn’t have the worry about, ‘I may pass this exam, but am I going to be able to pay the rest of my way through this semester?’”

Robinson graduated in December 2013. Now 29, she works as a staff nurse at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care in Clayton, Mo.

“I’m much happier. It’s been a huge change. Things have just taken off, and I can see that I have a bright future ahead of me,” she says.

To find out how you can make a gift to this important program or for more information, contact Brenda McPhail at 314-516-6503 or bmcphail@umsl.edu.


This story was originally published in the fall 2014 issue of UMSL Magazine.

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