Southern Willamette Valley
New Scholarship Funds Close the Opportunity Gap for Rural Lane County Students
Melina Winters is a Lane County native who has spent most of her 18 years in Lowell, a town of 1,045 about 22 miles southeast of Eugene. Melina was born two months ahead of schedule, and her early years were indelibly marked by the empathetic care of her doctors and nurses; their compassion later inspired her dream of becoming a pediatric nurse. “I always had really good, caring nurses that made me super comfortable,” Melina says, “and I just want to be able to do that for kids. I want to be there to comfort and also heal them.”
“These scholarships have been life-changing for me, and if I could give even a fraction of that to someone else later in life, that would be incredible.”
This fall, Melina will attend Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls thanks to a scholarship from the Tim and Ann Straub Scholarship Fund of Oregon Community Foundation, in addition to awards from The Ford Family Foundation and Kaiser Permanente. “I probably would not be going to OIT without these scholarships,” she says. “College is expensive, and I’m coming from a single-mother household in Lowell.”
Another Straub Scholarship and The Ford Family Foundation scholarship recipient, Springfield High School graduate Jadzia Engle will attend Oregon State University in Corvallis as a pre-medical student. Jadzia attributes her decision to become a primary care physician partly to connecting with advisors and mentors through her school’s HOSA—Future Health Professionals Club and partly to her family’s own lack of access to health care. “Caring for people—especially people who are in a lot of need—is something that really spoke to me,” she explains. “We were without a lot of health care throughout my childhood, just because we are in a lower socioeconomic bracket. Those were things that I didn’t have as a kid growing up, and that my father still doesn’t have as he grows older, so it's something that I really want to provide to other people.”
“It’s a very big goal of mine to get through my undergraduate education without any debt, the reason being that I have not been financially stable throughout my childhood. I don’t want that to get in the way of what I want to do with my future.”
The Tim and Ann Straub Scholarship Fund is one of two new OCF scholarship funds helping Lane County students like Melina and Jadzia overcome the opportunity gap to access post-secondary education. The Straub fund offers scholarships to graduating seniors who are pursuing a pre-medical, physician assistant or nursing degree. Eugene physician Tim Straub grew up in the rural Midwest, and his parents made many sacrifices to get him through college. To help Oregon families facing similar challenges, the Straub Fund focuses on youth in the vicinity of Eugene/Springfield, with a preference for students from Oakridge. In this small town about 45 miles from Eugene, roughly 56% of children ages 5 to 17 are living below the poverty line — the fifth-highest poverty rate among U.S. school districts with at least 100 students.
A second Lane County-focused scholarship fund established by Sharon Campbell Carlisle, who was born and raised in Oakridge. Sharon also seeks to support students from this struggling former logging town. The Robert Carlisle and Sharon Campbell Carlisle Scholarship Fund in Memory of Waldo and Irene Campbell offers a renewable scholarship to graduates of Oakridge High School who are pursuing a two- or four-year degree at a college or university in Oregon. The fund recently awarded its first scholarship to an Oakridge student who is studying to become a medical assistant.
These two funds are the first in OCF’s history to that were created to specifically benefit the community of Oakridge and are illustrative of our commitment to partner with donors to narrow the opportunity gap for young people in rural Oregon.
Melina and Jadzia are excited to start attending university this fall. But like students around the world, their plans have been complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “I was actually in the process of volunteering at McKenzie-Willamette Medical Center, and they sent volunteers home due to COVID-19 on my first day,” Jadzia recalls. Now, she must adjust to online education. “It’s going to be a harsh learning curve to go almost all remote coming into a new school year,” she says. “I’m thankful that I’m in a transition in my life where I can learn a whole new routine. That’s the mindset I was in anyway, so I’m just kind of taking it in stride and learning as I go.”
Meanwhile, Melina is adjusting to the stress of attending in-person classes during a global pandemic. “I’m a little scared because I’ve heard that a good percentage of COVID-19 cases come from universities,” she acknowledges. “But they’re having everyone take tests before we go, which makes it a little less scary. I think everyone’s doing a really good job of trying to make everything go smoothly.”
The pandemic has disproportionately impacted Oregon’s lower-income households. As Jadzia notes, scholarship funds have an even greater impact in these uncertain times. “I have a big weight off my chest: not thinking about student loan debt going into medical school, but also not having to work 20 hours a week alongside being a full-time student—especially in a pandemic where finding those opportunities is going to be a much bigger obstacle.”
By supporting students like Jadzia and Melina, these scholarships also have the potential to alleviate Lane County’s shortage of health professionals in rural and low-income communities. “We only have one doctor’s office out here,” Melina says, “so I’m hoping to stay fairly close to home. If I could work at RiverBend (PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield), that would be very nice because I do really, really love Lowell. I really like the small-town setting.”
“A lot of people—both in our country and out—are in desperate need of the type of care that I want to provide,” says Jadzia. “So I’ve thought both about rural communities within the United States that need more care as well as other continents.”
Wherever their careers take them, Melina and Jadzia are hopeful that they will one day be able to give back by helping other disadvantaged students to access higher education. “It’s something that I would be honored to grant to a student in the future,” Jadzia says. She is particularly interested in supporting high school programs like her HOSA—Future Health Professionals Club: “Giving back to programs like that—programs that help students form morals about who they are and ideals of what they want to do with their life—is something I care a lot about.”
“I don’t think scholarship donors realize how much they really are doing for people,” Melina emphasizes. “Multiple kids at my school—a small school where it is mostly low-income families—are going to college who didn’t think they would be going, because they received some of these amazing scholarships. It’s very life-changing, and I don’t know if the donors realize how incredible the scholarships that they give us are.”
OCF can help you explore establishing your own scholarship fund and other ways to support causes you care about in your community. Learn about what it's like to give through OCF. Learn more.