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(from Spelman Messenger)

First-Generation Students Benefit From Generosity
of Spelman Board Chair Rosalind Brewer

In early February 2012, Breanna Wilkerson,C’2015, realized she was not going to be able to raise the money to continue living in a residence hall on the campus of Spelman College. She wasn’t even registered for classes yet.

"I was in a situation where I was asked to go home due to financial circumstance,” remembers Wilkerson, a comparative women’s studies major, who is minoring in public health. “I was packing when I got the email about the first-generation scholarship. It literally saved my education. I don’t know what I would have done or where I would have gone. I was just in a bind.”

Wilkerson is the recipient of a $10,000 Rosalind Gates Brewer Scholarship; these are awarded to first-generation college students. Named for Rosalind Brewer, C’84, chair of the board of trustees at Spelman, the nine annual scholarships (eight at $10,000 and one at $20,000) are renewable, which is great for Wilkerson, who has struggled annually to finance her Spelman education.

I can’t get any private loans because I’m independent, I don’t have a co-signer and no real established credit,” said the San Antonio, Texas, native, who after the death of her mother, became a ward of the state, along with her brother, at age 13. Wilkerson did manage to avoid foster care by being the caretaker of her immobilized grandmother until she came to Spelman in 2011.

With support from the Brewer Scholarship, Wilkerson has thrived. She’s served on the sophomore class council, become a social justice associate, and founded the first chapter of GlobalMed, which works to end health disparities in underserved communities, on the campus of a historically Black college or university.

Participating in an HIV / AIDS research program at Northwestern University this summer keeps Wilkerson on the path to pursuing her doctorate in public health and making a career of researching women of color and HIV / AIDS, which took her mother’s life. Wilkerson’s trajectory aligns with Brewer’s intent for the scholarship.

“The vision I had for the Brewer Scholars was to ensure that those students who already had the talent and potential to earn a Spelman College degree could graduate,” said Brewer, a first-generation scholar herself who understands these students’ need for various types of support, including financial, moral and mentoring.

“They are what I call purposeful students. They are on a mission. But as first-generation students they face several challenges. Often they are carrying a lot of responsibility. There may be a lack of appreciation from the rest of their family, who did not go to college and don’t appreciate the hard work it takes. When they think the odds are against them, I think they’re in their favor because they are fighters. Nine times out of ten these students are breaking the mold when they come to Spelman College.”

For Kimimnickque Herbert, C’2015, receiving the Brewer Scholarship allowed her to be a better student. She spent the first few weeks of the second semester of sophomore year unsure and unfocused. “Being on campus, going to class with no books, not knowing if I was going to stay was hard. When I got the scholarship I was excited. It was a blessing,“ said Herbert, a biochemistry major and WalMart Scholar, who participates in the chemistry club and the glee club, and plans a career researching cancer, which runs in her family.

When you’re worried about getting your tuition paid you can’t really focus on your grades and manage your time. That’s not a stressful part of my life anymore.”

This story first appeared in the 2013 summer edition of the Spelman Messenger