WILLISTON, N.D. - Working as a successful deputy sheriff in Williston, Shanda Harstad, 33, had good pay, benefits, and a career where she was respected, but the desire to go back to school had always been in the back of her mind.
Harstad had always toyed with the idea of getting her nursing degree. She would have more than likely continued to contemplate returning to had it not been for the Williams County Graduate (WCG) Scholarship.
"It was a lot to consider leaving to go back to school to start fresh in new career," Harstad explained. "But this was something that I tried to pursue when I was eighteen and left WSC. I had my eldest daughter. I knew that I was not able to give my nursing degree the attention it deserved while raising my daughter."
The scholarship has given several non-traditional students the opportunity to switch careers without the burden of another loan. In an effort to provide free education to the residents of Williams County, the partnership between the Alva J. Field Trust, the North Dakota Challenge Fund, and the Williston State College Foundation has provided more than a financial incentive for the 344 recipients of the scholarship for the 2015-2016 school year; it has provided the reassurance that returning to school is a good decision.
"When I read about the scholarship in the Herald, I looked at it as a sign: I need to do this," Harstad stated. "I would like to think I would have eventually came back, but the WCG Scholarship was the push that I probably needed."
Harstad left the Williams County Sheriff's Office to begin her first semester back at WSC last January even before the WCG Scholarship was available.
"I wanted to get my prerequisites completed before the WCG was available," Harstad explained. "I knew there would be an influx of students. If I started early and was willing to pay for my first semester, I would not have to compete with other students for a spot in the program. I am grateful because I was able to get into the nursing program in the first year of the scholarship."
WSC's nursing program often has a wait list of several students. Last year, 50 people applied for the 24 spots. Harstad wanted to ensure that the WCG Scholarship would cover both years in the nursing program.
"Shanda is one of the students who may not have returned to college to pursue a degree in Nursing if she had not had the opportunity that was provided by the WCG Scholarship as she is not only a student but also a busy wife and mom," Gail Raasakka, Dakota Nursing Program and WSC Nursing Coordinator explained. "Certainly, the scholarship opportunity made it possible for Shanda to pursue her dream without causing undue financial stress to her family and ultimately she will be giving back to the community upon graduation by remaining in the area."
Since census day, September 22, 2015, $1,229,119 total awards have been disbursed for Fall 2015 WCG Scholarships. In its first year, $259,835 has been awarded for solely for books, a concern for Harstad as she entered an expensive program for course materials.
"When I went into the bookstore to get my nursing books, I was intrigued to see how much I would be saving because of this scholarship," Harstad said. "I knew I would more than likely have to take out a loan to purchase the books, so it was great to see what I saved. As a nursing student, $1,000 for books in your first semester is a lot, and I did not have to pay any of it, thanks to the WCG Scholarship."
The WCG Scholarship will continue as long as revenue and earnings continue. Now, thanks to the North Dakota Challenge Fund, personal contributions will go even further. Dr. Raymond Nadolny, President of WSC asks anyone thinking of a charitable gift this season to consider this unique opportunity: "For every two dollars donated, the North Dakota Challenge Fund will contribute one dollar." Anyone interested in contributing to the WCG Scholarship can contact the Williston State College Foundation at 701.572.9275.
For more information about the Williams County Graduate Scholarship please contact WSC at 701.774.4220.
For any information regarding WSC, please visit www.willistonstate.edu,
call 1.888.863.9455, or stop by 1410 University Avenue, Williston, ND.