Erika Wheeler is 25 years old, and she is in her second year of undergraduate education at IU. Erika chose to take a break from schooling after she graduated from high school and, instead, went straight into the workforce.
Recently, she decided to return to school and pursue a degree in Community Health with a minor in Nutrition. Her passion for the community combined with her six years outside of an academic environment made her a perfect candidate for the Cox Access Scholarship, which was awarded to her by IU.
This scholarship grants her 75 percent of her college expenses, but she has to agree to work enough hours to earn the other 25 percent of her expenses. This combined with having an internship, being a full-time student and being a wife makes for a very hectic life.
I sat down with Erika to learn what a typical day in her shoes is like.
Erika starts her day by walking her dog with her husband. Yes, Erika is married. She says this is often the tip-off for her fellow classmates that she is a “non-traditional student,” which is one of many qualifications a Cox Access Scholar must posses.
“At first that was a term I kind-of hated,” Erika said. “It’s like, you know, I already feel like I stick out enough.”
Now, she embraces this term, because she knows she doesn’t fit the mold of most college students on this campus. While many of her peers are sleeping in until the last possible second, Erika wakes up early to spend time with her husband before her day starts.
During her internship with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Erika discovered what she wants to do with the rest of her life.
She chose to go back to school after a six-year hiatus, because she wanted to have a career and not just a job. Although she says she loves her work as an assistant at Lloyd’s law office in town, she can’t see herself doing that for the rest of her life.
“Working somewhere like Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard is my dream,” Erika said. “It’s all for the welfare of the community, which I hope to promote one day.”
Being awarded a Cox Access Scholarship has given her a lot of confidence. She says she no longer feels “anonymous,” because IU believes in her enough to pay for her education.
And, unlike her traditional classmates, she has more on the line. She has people depending on her to give school her all.
“I've already started my family, and so to me school isn't something I just do for myself, but for my husband too, and for our future kids,” Erika said.
While work, an internship, running a household and being a full time student gets stressful at times, she is looking forward to the payoff: getting her degree in Community Health.
“I guess you could say I did things ‘backwards’, but for me that's the only way it could ever be,” Erika said.