Even if you have never met Ardella, it's hard not to cheer for her and be impressed by her accomplishments. Ardella returned to school to work toward a bachelor's degree in social work at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Ardella readily describes herself as a 48-year-old product of social welfare. "I belong to four generations of the struggles of African American women to free themselves from welfare and poverty. The process of change often occurs in small increments over an extended period of time. It requires patience, but the payoff is great," says Ardella.
The impetus to going back to school was both sudden and traumatic. Ardella was an equipment operator when she suffered a debilitating injury on the job. As she recovered in the hospital she began to re-evaluate her life and realized that her job was simply not giving her the intellectual stimulation that she craved. Ardella also realized that since her son was grown and had a family of his own, she was no longer a single parent who was the head of a household. Free of her parental responsibilities, Ardella felt she could finally do something for herself. For the first time in her life she had the opportunity to fulfill her dreams. "I knew that if I loved what I did for a living it would not feel like work," she says.
Ardella's first major obstacle was an old student loan that had not been paid. "In the beginning I was told I could not get financial aid until all my old loans were repaid," she recalls. But Ardella was not one to give up so easily. She persisted in making inquiries with the financial aid office until she finally got in touch with the assistant director. He told her to pay $35 a month for six months and then call back so her account could be re-evaluated.
In the meantime Ardella had already started classes and was only able to pay for her first semester through a generous personal loan from a friend and by convincing the college to allow her to carry a balance on her account. After six months of making payments on her old student loans and regular visits to the financial aid office, she was finally able to work out a deal that allowed her to be considered for financial aid. It also didn't hurt that during that time Ardella had made the Dean's List every semester.
Since getting financial aid was so difficult, Ardella quickly turned to private scholarships. She found a scholarship offered by the Minneapolis Women's Rotary, which was aimed at women over 30 who wanted to change their lives. To apply Ardella had to write an essay describing why she wanted to earn a degree and what she planned to do with it. She won the $1,500 scholarship. While the money was a huge help, she also found that there was another benefit.
"This scholarship turned out to be worth more than money since I am able to attend all the monthly meetings and eat dinner with this group of women. This has turned out to be a wonderful experience for me," she says.
Ardella's second scholarship was from the Jeannette Rankin Foundation, a group that is dedicated to helping women over the age of 35 who want to better themselves through education.
From her experience, Ardella encourages other adult students, advising them to not let money hold you back from getting a college education. She suggests that you go to the school, speak to the financial aid office, apply for all the scholarships that you can and explain your desire to your family, letting them know that there may be some hard times ahead, but it will be worth it because of what it will do for you. Ardella also has this warning for adult students, "Do not have too much pride to ask for help. Such pride will only get you into trouble. You wouldn't be going to school if you knew everything. The whole process is a learning experience."
Despite the challenges she has faced, Ardella believes that everything she has gone through, the challenges, the experiences and the responsibilities, have all been worth it. "Before making the decision to go back to school I asked myself this question: 'Was I, a woman, who was part of the fourth generation of poverty in my family, worth the challenges, experiences and responsibilities that school could bring me?' The answer to my question was a definite 'yes.' It continues every day to be 'yes.' And I want to let all other adult students know that each of you is worth it too."