AC Association Scholar: ‘I am not your average Gator’


Contributing Writer

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It’s difficult to grasp the impact that the last two years as an Allegheny College Association scholar have had on my life, but even more challenging to describe it to others. How do you put into words an experience that changed your life?

I recently attended the 40th anniversary celebration of this scholarship program and I listened as numerous former scholars echoed my experiences. They spoke of their initial fear of returning to a college classroom. That fear included acceptance and the ability to succeed in this environment, often after many years of non-scholarly activity. They also spoke of how this scholarship had been the catalyst for change in some way, often leading to experiences that they never imagined to be possible.

ACA was established in 1973 under sponsorship of the Allegheny Women’s Group. Essentially, a group of “faculty wives” decided that they wanted to do something meaningful and support continuing education for women.

Since that time, each year, women living in Crawford County have the opportunity to take that first fearful step back into the college classroom. Those in attendance at the recent celebration learned how that first step has led to change in the lives of many of those women.

My first class that I took in the fall of 2012 was a freshman English class. I had located myclassroom, in Oddfellows, during our special day-long orientation held in May. I chose to sit in the front row, but not in the center. This became my seat for the entire semester. I was surprised at how quiet everyone was as they came into class.

I soon realized that I wasn’t the only student who wasn’t familiar with everyone in the room. It wasn’t long until morning greetings and chatter filled the room prior to the start of class. This class required lots of reading and writing and I was thrilled when I discovered that I could keep up with my younger classmates.

I chose two more English classes in the spring semester. Both classes involved lots of discussion and some group projects. I started to feel more comfortable and connected.

I realized that I was in the company of some brilliant professors and students and I tried to absorb that brilliance as much as possible.

I discovered that I loved being a college student and applied for a second year Walsh or Returning Scholar Award. There were just two scholarships and at least three applicants. I was at work when I got the call welcoming me back to campus for a second year. I apologize to anyone who can’t get the image of my celebratory dance out of their mind.

My second year has been focused on journalism classes, both news writing and multimedia. I also have a political science class about public opinion, which easily relates  to my interests. The connections I’ve made and experiences that I’ve had this year have been amazing. I would need to write an entire article in an attempt to capture each inspiring moment. I have posted many of my experiences on my gator blog, if you’re curious.

Being able to return for a second year also gave me the ability to focus more on the learning aspect. When you return to campus and see some familiar faces and know your way around, it seems easier to let go of any concerns and just take it all in. From visiting the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to spending a weekend with Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers, it’s been amazing.

Just when I thought my status as a Gator might be coming to an end, I found out that I get to come back next year. I am thrilled and honored to have been chosen again.

Since the scholarship was recently renamed the Nancy Sheridan ACA scholarship, I am proud to be one of the first Nancy Sheridan scholars. She is one of the founders from the Allegheny Women’s Group and has been devoted to continuing education for women since the beginning of the program.

I may not be your typical or average Gator, but this opportunity has made me a Gator for life. I am so grateful to everyone who has encouraged and supported me and I look forward to providing that same support for scholars in the future.