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Thurmond Scholarship

If you're a student interested in applying for a Thurmond Scholarship, click here to download the application Thurmond Form 2012.pdf. Here is the brochure: Thurmond Brochure 2012.pdf


Thurmond Scholarship Honor Women

June 25, 2011


In her hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, Serena Porter struggled in school but excelled in acting. Her mother died when she was 13, and from then on she was raised by her father and stepmother. It was her grandmother who always encouraged her to get a college education. But she struggled in school, and moved to Hollywood at age 23 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

After a while, Porter got tired of what she calls the “Hollywood aspect” of the entertainment business. Now she is 32 years old and her grandmother is in remission from breast cancer, and so she chases a new goal: To graduate from University of California, Irvine with a degree in criminology.

“I just want her to see me graduate because she is the one person who has always been the voice in my head telling me to go back to school, and because my mom isn’t here to see me graduate,” Porter said.

But being laid off from her job at an event management company, it has been difficult for her to pay the tuition costs of a full-time student at Fullerton College. She considered taking next semester off to save money.

“Everything goes against you when you’re older . . . A lot of people think you should already be done with school,” she said. “It’s been rough trying to finish school because you’re going with a bunch of 18-year-olds who are right out of high school.”

But come Saturday, the burden of financing her education will be eased with the $2,000 Thurmond Scholarship she is receiving from the Young Women’s Christian Association North Orange County. The scholarship was started by Ruth Thurmond in the 1980s, when she began working with the YWCA to secure basic essentials like food and shelter for foreign students. In her work, she learned of few funding resources for women trying to go back to school, said her son, Don Thurmond. 

Mrs. Thurmond’s passion for educating women was planted at a young age. During her senior year of college – around 1938 – she met the man she later married, but when they first met her father did not allow her to wed until she finished college and spent one year working in her chosen profession – teaching, said Don Thurmond, who continues his mother’s mission and scholarship even after her death.

In 2010, he was the first man appointed to the YWCA of North Orange County’s board of directors in 84 years. He serves as the association’s treasurer and in his role, he oversees investments made to generate the income from interest that funds the scholarship.

Other recipients being awarded the Thurmond Scholarship on Saturday night are Alondra Hucks-Willingham, who is transferring from Fullerton College to Cal State Fullerton this fall, and Jaren Koelzer, a current CSUF student. Also, Fullerton College students Fumi Suhr and Tracy Ailant are receiving awards.
“We have an excellent group of women who truly have serious financial need, but we also have women, whom we feel are very dynamic and motivated and will go on to finish their college degrees and be successful in their careers,” Don Thurmond said.


Alondra Hucks-Willingham

Alondra Hucks-Willingham has two sons and cares for her disabled husband. Financial aid has assisted her in paying for her education since 2008, when she returned to school after 25 years away, but she needed more money than the amount alloted for her.

At first, returning to an academic life was overwhelming for Hucks-WIllingham, but her advisor – who shared the same experience of being a returning student – became her strength.

“I spent a lot of time in the tutoring center and I learned how to make study groups with a mixture of other returning students and some of these young, absolutely brilliant people,” she said. “That was how I made it, that was my biggest obstacle.”

She now plans to major in liberal studies, with a certificate in special education so she can reach her long-term goal of teaching special education children, as well as kids who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I feel like they are slipping through the cracks because people are not prepared for that,” she said. “A lot of teachers work in lower economic schools are only there because they are working off their student loans. Once they get rid of their loans, they move on, and I think it is psychologically damaging to the children, when every three to five years, they have new teachers coming and going. It just makes me think they feel rejected.”

Jaren Koelzer

A little more than a year and a half ago, Jaren Koelzer was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. After surgery and radio-iodine therapy, doctors told her that she was cancer-free. One week ago they found another lump in her throat. But as a single mom to a 12-year-old son, she continues to plan for the future as a mentor to special education children.

“That was quite an experience – scary, but at the same time, it made me very determined, especially with my son watching me. You have to have a lot of strength,” Koelzer said.

Before transferring to Cal State Fullerton in 2010 to be a full-time student, she spent the past eight years going to school part-time and working full-time. She hopes to graduate in spring of 2012 so she enrolled in 19 summer school units, which would have depleted her bank account and forced her to borrow money from friends or family, if it were not for the Thurmond Scholarship.

She is studying child and adolescent development and then plans to enter into the university’s credential program for special education or into the Orange County Department of Education credential program.

“I’m amazed that I was chosen among all of the women who applied for it. I’m very, very honored,” Koelzer said.

Tracy Ailant

After watching her mother and grandmother raise their children as single mothers who did not have an education, Tracy Ailant wanted to show her 16-year-old daughter that opportunity is hers for the taking. Although she never graduated from high school, she passed the General Education Development Test and enrolled in classes at Fullerton College, making her a first generation college student in her family.

“I saw myself recreating their [mother and grandmother’s] lives and I realized that it didn’t work for them and it wasn’t going to work for me, so something had to change,” Ailant said. “. . . I call it ‘changing the cycle.’”

At Fullerton College, she hopes to transfer to Cal State Fullerton, where she will major in environmental engineering with a specialty in energy and water conservation. “I believe in myself and I believe in the things that I want to accomplish, and it’s nice to know that someone else believes in it too,” she said.

For now, the Thurmond Scholarship will allow Ailant to cut back her work hours and spend more time focusing on academics. “It gives me some self esteem, really. It shows me that, with opportunity and persistence and determination to make things happen for yourself, that it is possible,” Ailant said.

Fumi Suhr

Fumi Suhr left Japan for the United States in 2007 to get married. After two years of abuse from her husband, she left with her newborn son for a better life. She moved into a shelter and now lives with her son in an apartment. She is currently enrolled in Fullerton College’s Extended Opportunities Program and Services Department, which aims to recruit college students who are educationally and socioeconomically challenged.

Her long-term goal is to transfer to a four-year university and graduate with a bachelors of arts in psychology, and eventually obtain a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy.

Story by Amy Dempsey/ ;

If you're a student interested in applying for a Thurmond Scholarship, click here to download the application Thurmond Form 2012.pdf. Here is the brochure: Thurmond Brochure 2012.pdf


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