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Reaching the Top, Together

Reaching the Top, Together

Not only does Alverno’s Summit Fund help students complete their degree, it also asks them to pay it forward

When Retiki Seals crosses the Pitman Theatre stage at commencement, she will achieve several milestones.

She will become a first-generation college graduate. She will become a nurse, answering a calling to care for her community. She will proudly represent what it means to be a professional Black woman in health care. And she will continue along the path of higher education to graduate school, where she hopes to address the health care disparities that contribute to higher mortality rates for African American mothers and infants.

“This is a stepping stone for what’s to come,” she says of her Alverno degree.

With one semester to go before graduation, however, a potential roadblock emerged: A tuition balance had to be paid off before Seals could register for courses and complete her final nursing clinical.

Alverno’s Student Development and Success team reached out to help Seals find a resolution. In the course of those discussions, Seals was told her balance would be paid through a scholarship from the Mary J. Meehan Summit Fund, allowing her to begin her final semester of studies this spring.

“I was surprised, I was extremely happy, and I was extremely grateful,” she recalls feeling when she was notified of the award. “This nursing journey has not been easy for me. Being a mom adds extra financial responsibility.”

Seals is one of between 20 and 45 students every semester who receive a Summit Fund scholarship, typically ranging from $200 to $2,000. The awards are designed to ensure that financial challenges do not preclude academically strong students from earning their degrees.

Created in 2015 to honor Alverno’s seventh president, the Summit Fund has awarded more than $1 million via nearly 300 scholarships to date.

One recent recipient is Georgia Wise, a student-athlete working toward a May 2024 graduation date. The biochemistry major hopes to attend medical school and become a surgeon, specializing in either orthopedics or obstetrics and gynecology.

Wise’s Alverno education got off to a strong start in 2021. The Arizona native was recruited to join the soccer team and came to campus having already earned 36 college credits through an online program offered by Arizona State University. But right before her second semester started, her dad got into a serious car accident. She had to leave her family and return to campus, unsure of her father’s prognosis.

“The support that I got from school, making sure I got the help I needed, said a lot about Alverno’s community,” she says. “I got personal written letters from the sisters here. Alverno even offered to pay for my plane ticket to go home in case my father’s condition worsened. It was heartwarming.”

The support didn’t end there. Wise’s family had planned on helping her pay for school, but her father’s long road to recovery affected the degree to which they could contribute. So Wise found herself spending many hours working to cover tuition, making it harder to focus on her studies as well as her own wellbeing. She reached out for help, and it came – in the form of a Summit Fund scholarship.

“It was such a huge relief,” she says. “I know I will need loans for medical school, so I didn’t want to take out loans for my undergraduate education. The uncertainty was stressful for me and my family. This relieves some of that stress.”

Dedicated Summit Fund supporters include alumnae like My-Linh Callies ’10, who attended Alverno’s Weekend College program. While the fund was created years after Callies’ graduation, its mission struck a chord.

“As soon as I learned about the Summit Fund, I wanted my gift to go specifically to these ladies to help them achieve their goals,” she says. “It goes back to my experience as a working mom who is juggling everything. I was fortunate that finances were not an obstacle for me, and I’m in a good position now where I can give back.”

In fact, giving back is built into the Summit Fund scholarships. Students who receive the awards are asked to sign a pledge that when they are established in the workforce, they will pay the gift forward through a donation to the fund.

“I do plan on giving back to Alverno because I don’t want money to be the reason why someone can’t fulfill their purpose or passion in life,” says Seals.

A gift to the Summit Fund not only helps a student complete their degree. It also removes barriers to the transformative power of an Alverno education.

“My hope is their experience at Alverno really gives them the confidence and courage to go after whatever their dream is so that they’re able to feel seen and heard in their professional and personal lives,” says Callies.

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