Returning adult student excels thanks to donor support

Since she was a child, Melanie Spurgeon has dreamt of walking the halls of a university and proudly crossing a commencement stage to receive her degree. This year, though her path was far from traditional, she did exactly that, earning her bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders.

With four children between the ages of four and 12, returning to college was no small feat. When she first came to the university in 2019, she could hardly believe there was a place for a student like her, but over the next several years she found it to be a place she not only belonged, but thrived.

“My youngest son was born prematurely the day classes began that year,” she recalls. “He went to every class those first two years; he and my other three have grown up at WSU.”

And that’s not an overstatement. In addition to sitting through classes and joining their mom for extracurricular programs, her sons have also benefited from the instructors in the CSD program.

“My middle son couldn’t speak at age 4, and Professor Slieter worked directly with him,” said Spurgeon, referencing deaf studies instructor Lorita Slieter. “She taught him sign language which he still uses today, despite developing his speech since then.”

Slieter wasn’t the only one who helped Spurgeon succeed along the way. While she was working toward her degree, Spurgeon began to struggle significantly from the effects of multiple sclerosis, a chronic autoimmune disease. As disability seemed to take over her life, often leaving her confined to a wheelchair, she found the support of her instructors to be stronger than ever.

“Dr. Musaji would email me and offer guidance, and at my worst he helped me learn to speak properly again,” she said. “Then there is Dr. Richburg, who not only offered me professional opportunities and guidance, but the humanity I so needed. During a time when so many offered me pity, she gave me a challenge and autonomy that helped me believe in myself.”

While Spurgeon was deeply engaged in her education, the cost of managing a chronic disease and her family life while also handling her college expenses was a challenge. Her junior year, she found out she would be receiving the Oakes Family Scholarship, which is specifically for students in the Cohen Honors College. “I felt such relief,” she said. “Loans and grants went far, but not far enough.”

With the scholarship funds, she was able to find some financial stability as she managed her household. The next year, when the scholarship renewed, she was able to pay for repairs to her van, which she had purchased to transport her wheelchair. The impact of the scholarship for Spurgeon demonstrates the true importance of financial support: giving students the ability to thrive instead of scraping by.

Shortly after she graduated, Spurgeon had the opportunity to meet the donor behind the scholarship, Diane Oakes. She said that it was unlike anything she had experienced before to be able to share what the scholarship meant to her and her family. “That scholarship was yet another blessing in a series of small and magnificent examples of how humanity is beautiful,” she said. “Funds like these can be what gives a student the ability to obtain their education and still meet the heavy demands of life.”

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