Scholarship created for single parents

By Sarelle Azuelos

Single parent PhD students have arguably more work and more expenses than undergraduates and will finally get some much needed financial assistance. University of Calgary communication and culture dean Dr. Kathleen Scherf saw a need for the annual $5,000 Dr. Jeanette Nicholls Graduate Scholarship and contacted other influential women in Calgary to make it happen. Scherf and seven other women came together to raise $100,000 for a long-term endowment.

Scherf was a single parent PhD student at UBC and noted her experience is what drove her to raise the money.

“I was aiming for $5,000,” said Scherf. “It seems to be that’s what I fork over for [my son] Rob. It’s kind of a neat feeling that even after I’m dead, a PhD student like I was is going to be helped.”

Scherf explained they needed to reach $100,000 because the university has a rule stating that a maximum of five per cent of the endowment can be given out each year.

She shared her story of having her first son Rob a week before her last seminar. That seminar later became the subject of her first paper. She pointed out that he has always brought luck to her career.

PhD student in educational technology and single parent Patti Dyjur explained time management was important when balancing work, studies and family life.

“I work full-time, so doing my PhD part-time is really the only way I can get it done,” said Dyjur. “I have to be very disciplined [about] when I’m going to get things done.”

Dyjur added she occasionally leaves office or school work unfinished in order to spend time with her two adolescent sons.

Scherf noted that while balancing her responsibilities was difficult at times, she was happy with the choices she made.

“We lived on the UBC campus in family housing and he was at the campus daycare which was right next door,” she said of her son. “It was a co-op daycare, so all the parents were involved and you had do two shifts. It was idyllic, really. When I look back on it now it’s like a golden period. I had my mountain bike and his little seat on the back. It was great.”

She hopes that the scholarship would have more than just a financial impact on the students who received it.

“It’s not just money to recognize your hard work, this award is based on academic merit,” she said. “It’s a powerful signal that you’re doing a good thing, you’re doing the right thing. You’re a fantastic role model for the child that you’re rearing and for society at large, because families come in all kinds of configurations.”

Scherf noted the scholarship is available to single parents entering and currently enrolled in PhD programs. The scholarship is also available to all students, regardless of sex.

Dyjur ensured she was going to apply soon. While she has received smaller scholarships in the past, she was excited for money committed to single parents. More assistance in the form of scholarships, awards and bursaries allows single parents to dedicate more time to studying and dissertation instead of working an off-campus job.

“For me personally, winning the money would just make it a little bit easier,” she said. “Things like buying books and equipment can be expensive. Every little bit helps because Calgary can be so expensive. I’m actually providing for three of us. It’s not just me; it’s the kids as well.”

The scholarship is named after former SAIT vice-president Jeanette Nicholls, who is not only an important figure in Calgary, but a mentor to Scherf. Scherf mentioned that after working together for several years, she found out Nicholls was also a single parent when a student at the University of Arizona.

Nicholls was surprised and humbled by having the scholarship in her name. She felt, however, the real inspiration came from the eight women who worked to raise the funds.

“The honorary chair of the fundraising committee was Pat Moore and if there’s anybody on the face on the earth that I want to be like when I grow up, it’s [her],” said Nicholls. “[It] was an absolute pleasure to have dynamite women like Bonnie DuPont, Catherine Ford, Sydney Sharpe and Jennifer Diakiw. Those are incredible women in their own right and a scholarship should be named after them, too.”

Scherf pointed out that Nicholls taught her the importance of giving back to the community.

“I want to honour my mentor,” she said. “She mentored me, I’ll mentor other young women. I’d like to keep that sense of karma rolling.”