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Three Women United by One Scholarship
NDSU professors with different experiences shouldering the cost of college unite to help NDSU students like Sierra Nguyen do "the next big thing."
Story by Micaela Gerhardt | Photos by Ann Arbor Miller | January 24, 2022
On the afternoon I met Sierra Nguyen ’23, the first recipient of the Janice Haggart Microbiology Scholarship, she had been awake since 4 a.m. It wasn’t unusual — a few days a week, Sierra works early morning part-time shifts as a phlebotomist at a local hospital, driving to work before the sun is even up.
Sierra, a junior enrolled in NDSU’s accelerated Master of Public Health program, is currently on track to earn two degrees in four years: her undergraduate degree in microbiology and her master’s in public health. While a microbiology degree can prepare students for careers in agriculture and the food industry, it’s also a great major for students who are pre-med, pre-dental, and pre-vet. With her degrees, Sierra is pursuing a future career as a medical doctor.
"For me, supporting students who are going on to do the next big thing in science, or medicine, or industry is incredible — and I want those students to come from NDSU."
Dr. Jane Schuh
Professor and Director of Special Initiatives in Agricultural Affairs
In the spring of her freshman year, the COVID-19 pandemic took the world, and college campuses, by storm. When her classes shifted online, Sierra moved back home to live with her parents and, as a demand for healthcare workers skyrocketed, returned to the part-time CNA job she had worked in high school. Though challenging, the choices Sierra made during this time influenced the trajectory of her NDSU education and career path.
“It made me want to go the public health route because I think it’s really important — not only for healthcare workers, but for everyone — to be able to have the right to understand how certain diseases work and how vaccines and preventative measures work. I really want to be able to communicate with people about it,” Sierra said.
Dr. Jane Schuh ’92, ’03 also worked at a local hospital while she earned her undergraduate degree and Ph.D. from NDSU — but without scholarships, she worked 12-hour night shifts to support herself and then went directly to class. If she arrived early, she sometimes took a quick nap at her desk.
Today, Jane is the Director of Special Initiatives in Agricultural Affairs and a professor of microbiological sciences at NDSU. When she considers what makes current students successful, she recognizes the importance of the scholarship support she lacked.
“I don’t think there’s anything we do on campus that’s more important than supporting our students, and I mean, I’m a researcher!” Jane, who also has a son in his freshman year at NDSU, said. “For me, supporting students who are going on to do the next big thing in science, or medicine, or industry is incredible — and I want those students to come from NDSU.”
In 2020, Jane funded a scholarship match for the Janice Haggart Microbiology Scholarship on NDSU’s Giving Day, a one-day annual event that raises funds to support scholarships, research, programs, and facilities. It was an exciting opportunity for Jane because the scholarship was named in honor of one of her most beloved mentors, former professor in microbiological sciences Janice Haggart ’75, ’96, and designed for students majoring in microbiology.
“It was a no-brainer for me to do the match for Janice’s scholarship because she has been a wonderful mentor to me. She is somebody who I like, respect, and have learned from, and I know that her heart is exactly where mine is in that we support students and student success,” Jane said.
Without scholarship support, many college students dedicate a significant portion of their time to their jobs, which can impact their performance in the classroom while also diminishing their abilities to get involved in leadership roles on campus. As a scholarship recipient, Sierra can focus on her education and spend her time more intentionally. She is able to take advantage of every opportunity that will help her become the doctor she aspires to be, and her busy schedule reflects the advice Jane has given her own graduate students throughout the years: “Always look to increase the tools in your toolbox. Keep your eyes open, build on different opportunities, get more tools for your toolbox, and you’ll be able to go wherever you want.”
For Sierra, that means that after she spends a few hours in the hospital lab drawing blood, she heads to class. Between courses, she reads literature reviews for her graduate assistantship with NDSU professor Dr. Rick Jansen. Under Dr. Jansen’s guidance, she’s studying how different genomic sequences affect pancreatic cancer. Both her part-time job and graduate assistantship help her gain necessary experience in the field, but she’s also able to strike a balance between her work, school, and social life, which includes volunteering at a local animal shelter and spending time with friends and family.
An avid coffee drinker, Sierra’s busy days are fueled by caramel lattes (her favorite), a passion for her coursework (inspired by her professors), and the knowledge that she has financial support as she pursues her goals.
“The scholarships NDSU offers affected my choices to attend and continue my education here. Taking on the extra tuition for my master’s degree was daunting, but because I received help through scholarships, I’m able to afford it,” Sierra said. “Earning a scholarship is a sign that my hard work is paying off, and it motivates me and pushes me to do better in school.”
"That's what scholarships are, really, that hope for the future. It's, 'What will you do next, and how can I help?'"
Dr. Jane Schuh
Janice Haggart, for whom Sierra’s scholarship is named, also attended NDSU — and her life was changed by receiving scholarships not just once, but twice. When she was in high school, she dreamed of following in her brother’s footsteps and attending NDSU. Then, her father was diagnosed with cancer, and her family was no longer able to afford the tuition. To her relief, Janice was offered scholarships that made it possible for her to attend NDSU, where she earned her undergraduate degree in bacteriology, the equivalent of a microbiology degree today, and began working in a public health lab after graduation.
Later in life, Janice’s husband was diagnosed with leukemia. At the time, they had two young children, and Janice was working part-time at a drugstore. When her husband passed away, Janice worried about taking care of her children’s futures, so she called her former advisor from NDSU who suggested she apply to graduate school.
Janice was skeptical she would be able to afford a master’s degree, but NDSU offered her a graduate assistantship and a scholarship, so she didn’t have to pay a penny to go back to school. After she graduated, she accepted a position teaching microbiology at NDSU. Her favorite part of the job was interacting with students, and because of this passion, Janice decided to invest in her named scholarship as well.
“My students were really, really hard workers,” Janice said. “Everybody had a job — I mean, they knew they needed one to get experience — and that really impressed me. A lot of them were really close with their families too, and so for me that was a big deal, having lost my father while I was in college and my husband later on.”
As a former chair of a scholarship committee at NDSU, Janice looks forward to the impact scholarship recipients will feel after graduation, when many people have loan payments, families, and other financial responsibilities to take care of. At that stage of life, she said, recognizing that they have less debt from their degrees is a big relief.
The fact that Jane had established a match for the Janice Haggart Microbiology Scholarship on NDSU’s Giving Day was a particularly meaningful gesture for Janice, who greatly admires her former colleague.
“When I first met Jane, she was a teaching assistant for the immunology lab I taught. I saw her finish her doctorate and come back to our department, which was absolutely wonderful,” Janice said. “She had excellent research and teaching skills and a really good relationship with students and everyone she worked with — and talk about a giving person, that’s her.”
Worlds collided in the fall of 2021 when Janice and Jane were able to meet Sierra at an NDSU scholarship luncheon.
“I’m so impressed with her,” Jane said. “Sierra is a great student — she’s personable and interested and interesting. It’s neat to meet somebody like that, who makes you say, ‘I can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.’ I think that’s what scholarships are, really, that hope for the future. It’s, ‘What will you do next, and how can I help?'”
You can support scholarships for NDSU students by making a gift to the general scholarship fund.