Turning Obstacles Into Opportunity

Winona State students are well known to be bright, hardworking, and dedicated to their education. While each one comes from a different background with a different story to tell, there are some who have faced obstacles harder than most. There are some who may have once thought achieving a college degree seemed unattainable given their life circumstances. However, when others step up and help them achieve success, it not only changes their lives but also instills in them the desire to do the same for others.

WSU student Jessica Harvey Rigby experienced a tumultuous childhood. Her mother, a drug addict, committed suicide when Jessica was just eight years old. When she was 14, her half-sister passed away from leukemia. Her father, an abusive alcoholic suffering from PTSD, also died of leukemia a couple years later. While she spent some time living with relatives, she also spent a period of time living in shelters and foster care. “The experiences in my life could have broken me down irrevocably,” Jessica says. “Instead, I have chosen to let them make me courageous and determined to succeed.” She has since discovered a passion in caring for others, and is working towards achieving her bachelor’s degree in nursing with a minor in child advocacy, with hopes of being able to work with children in some way.

Crystal Becker also had parents who struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, both spending time in prison. Her mother passed away in 2008, and she no longer has contact with her father. While she now has a steady family life with her stepmother, she was unable to afford college on her own. So when she learned she was chosen as the recipient of a scholarship at Winona State that would allow her to graduate debt-free, she says, “I cried, immediately feeling a huge amount of stress lifting off my shoulders.” During her difficult childhood, school was Crystal’s safe haven, her fifth-grade teacher – her rock. As a result, her dream is to become a teacher and inspire children the same way her teacher inspired her.

Zaria Smith never saw herself attending college. Although she ultimately changed her mind in order to set an example for her 13 brothers and sisters, she found herself independent after graduating high school, and attending college seemed impossible. About receiving a life-changing scholarship to attend WSU, she says, “this opportunity has driven me further. I feel like I have someone in my corner rooting for me, and that I am not going through this alone.” As a psychology and communications: leadership and advocacy major with a Spanish minor, Zaria plans to attend graduate school to become a guidance counselor. She has been inspired to give back as soon as she is able and hopes to change the world by positively impacting those she meets.

What these three inspiring young women have in common, aside from difficult backgrounds, is that they are all recipients of the Leaders for Tomorrow scholarship at WSU, provided by the Annexstad Family Foundation.

The scholarship helps “exceptionally bright and accomplished students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have overcome extraordinary hardship in their young lives and who have little or no means to pay for college.” The ultimate goal is to allow each scholar to graduate with little to no debt. Working together in close partnership, the University and the Annexstad Family Foundation secure the funds so the goal of graduating debt-free can truly be realized for each Annexstad scholar. For their part, students must continue to fulfill the three requirements of the scholarship: to be enrolled as a full-time student, continue to meet WSU’s academic standards, and stay on track to graduate.

“We thank the Annexstad Family Foundation for their support of these well-deserving students at Winona State,” says WSU President Scott Olson. “These students have shown the promise and perseverance to one day become chosen leaders in their field and, with the help of the Leaders for Tomorrow scholarship, are realizing futures they never thought possible and learning the importance of giving back. Together, we’re all working to improve our world.”