University of Vermont

University Communications

Scholarships Ease Return to College

Release Date: 02-02-2009

Author: Jon C. Reidel
Phone: 802/656-8206 Fax: (802) 656-3203

Tom Douglas

Undergrad Tom Douglas enrolled at UVM with the help of an Osher Reentry Scholarship. Last month, the art major exhibited a collection of paintings, titled Against the Wall, in Williams Hall's Colburn Gallery. (Photo: Sally McCay)

The paths taken by Sarah Harford and Tom Douglas on their ways to earning bachelor degrees from the University of Vermont illustrate the challenges facing people who decide to re-enter or start college later in life. For Harford, a 30-year-old pharmacy technician on track to graduate in 2010 with a degree in medical laboratory science, that involved having the faith to return to college after a not-so-positive collegiate experience following high school.

"I graduated from high school when I was 17 and went to college for a year not knowing what I wanted to do," says Harford, who attended Quinnipiac after graduating from Champlain Valley Union High in Hinesburg, Vt. "I didn't want to continue spending my parents' money, so I deferred for a year, which turned into seven. In 2002, I decided I wanted to go back to school. It was scary, but it's the best thing I've ever done."

Harford and Douglas were among the first recipients of a scholarship first offered at UVM in 2005 with $50,000 from the Bernard Osher Foundation, the Osher Reentry Scholarship Program. In October, the foundation solidified the futre of the program by establishing a $1 million endowment for the program at UVM, as well as a $50,000 bridge grant, that will provide $2,000 scholarships for 20-25 students between the ages of 25 and 50 who either didn't finish college or never attended. There are 27 endowed Osher Reentry Scholarship Programs in the United States, and UVM is one of three in New England, along with Tufts and Umass-Amherst.

The $1 million endowment will be a "permanent resource that will significantly ease the path for non-traditional students to earn an undergraduate degree from UVM," says Chrysanne Chotas, director of corporate and foundation relations.

For Douglas, who'd been working for the Vermont Ferry Company for 15 years when he decided to start college in 2001, overcoming the fear of leaving a full-time job to pursue a dream of becoming an artist was challenging to say the least. After all, he had three young children to support. "I was scared to death," says Douglas, 45. "It was a big step walking out of a steady paycheck, but my wife was very supportive. It has taken eight years, but I've never regretted it for a second. It's really set a good example for my daughters."

Douglas, like many who pursue higher education later in life, grew up in a family where attending university was not a foregone conclusion. "My dad was the youngest of six boys and never went to college," Douglas says. "It wasn't that college was discouraged in my family, it just wasn't talked about very much. You just went to work after you graduated from high school."

"It was difficult at first going from a work environment to a college classroom," he says. But Douglas has not forgotten his many years in the maritime industry; today it informs his work as a student of painting and sculpting, including a recent collection on display in Williams Hall's Colburn Gallery. The exhibit, Against the Wall, incorporates images and forms of "electrical and structural components, lighting, pipe work, bits of glass, and the nuts and bolts that we would otherwise never take notice of," Douglas says.

The Osher Foundation, established in 1977 by Bernard Osher, a businessman and community leader, seeks to improve quality of life through support for higher education and the arts. "Our founder, Bernard Osher, has traditionally taken special interest in postsecondary scholarship support, wanting committed individuals to realize their professional promise without financial impediments blocking their path," says Mary G.F. Bitterman, president of the San Francisco-based foundation. "We wish all UVM Osher Reentry Scholars success and happiness in the years ahead."

For more information on the Osher Reentry Scholarship Program offered through UVM's Continuing Education Department, call (800) 639-3210 or (802) 656-2085.