When Jennifer Welch made the decision to re-enroll at Winona State University in her 30s, she knew she was going to need help. The Winona native had attended WSU right after high school but struggled with some personal issues, and saw her GPA adversely affected.

Eventually Welch decided to try something different, so she enrolled at Minnesota State College – Southeast Technical, where she earned her cosmetology license. For the past 12 years she’s worked as a hair stylist here in Winona.

“What I like about my current job is that I get to make people feel good about themselves. I like making people smile,” said Welch. “But I always felt like there was something missing. Like I wanted to do more. Like I could do more.”

When a friend returned to school and encouraged her to do the same, Welch began to think realistically about how she could make it a reality for herself.

“I kept thinking, ‘How am I going to do this? I’m a single mom, I own my own house, I can barely make ends meet as is! There is no way I can do this!’” said Welch. She also dwelled on her previous experience and how overwhelmed and stressed she had felt. “I thought, ‘Will I be good enough to go back? Will they even want me?’”

With the help of the Admissions staff, Welch sought an academic pardon that allowed her to start with a clean slate. She declared majors in both Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Movement Science, and joined several student clubs—the Food and Nutrition Club, Movement Science Club, Cardiac Rehab Club, and Exercise Science Club—in an effort to begin networking and seeking new opportunities.

With her academic concerns addressed, Welch turned to her financial concerns and began applying for scholarships.

“I applied for every scholarship that I was eligible for,” said Welch. “I thought, ‘If I can get one of these, it will make things easier, and I’ll be able to concentrate on my son and on my studies.’”

Welch didn’t get just one scholarship. She got seven. She is the current recipient of the Randolph W. & Ruth Howe Miller scholarship, the Home Federal Savings Bank scholarship, the James R. Erickson Adult Entry Memorial scholarship, the Erika K scholarship, the Rotary Club Winona Service Above Self scholarship, the WSU Retiree Center scholarship, and the Oppreicht, AAUW scholarship.

“It just means the world to me that there are people who don’t even know me that want to support me,” said Welch. “These are generous people with huge hearts, and they want to find someone to help. It makes you want to be the kind of person they want to help.”

Through the efforts and ongoing support of the WSU Admissions staff, her professors, and the benefactors of her scholarships, Welch has found success as a college student the second time around. She keeps a meticulously organized schedule: from class to work to the gym to family time, every minute counts. Next summer Welch plans to apply for graduate school and pursue a degree in physical therapy. The field is very competitive, but she knows her experiences at WSU have prepared her to succeed.

“I’m really working hard, and I hope I’m a role model for my son,” said Welch. “I finally know that I can do this, and I want to tell others, ‘Don’t give up!’”

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Cassandra Douglas

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