Ramona Coker made the decision to get her college degree the day she witnessed her daughter cross the stage of her high school graduation ceremony. Thanks to support from the Jacobs Presidential Scholarship and the Redfield Foundation Physical Disabilities Scholarship, even as a non-traditional student and single parent, Coker has been able to pursue her dream of becoming a Web Developer with a focus on providing accessibility for the websites so those with disabilities can have equal access to information.
Yet, this 43-year old single mom faces an additional challenge: she’s blind. The ability to receive financial support has enabled Coker to pursue a dream long-deferred.
“I’m a single mom so everything I’ve done for the past twenty years of my life, I’ve done for my daughter,” she said. “Everything I’ve ever wanted, I’ve put on the backburner at one point or another because what my daughter needed...was more important. That’s not a bad thing, but that’s the reality. We all put things on the back burner, it’s a fact of life. Scholarships can help you not have stress so you can focus on what’s important while you are working toward your degree. And, it’s important that you’re able to do well. I can’t stress enough how many times I’ve spoken to professors or counselors, and they’ve said ‘we’ll get you through.’ And I’ve said pardon me, but I don’t want to just get through. I want to do well. This is important. This is going to set a bar for others who come through who live with disabilities and who want an education. This is going to set a bar for scholars that want to apply for scholarships and be accepted and have the funding available because they want to do well.”
For Coker, showing up and doing her best day after day, and semester after semester, is just as important as the degree she is working toward. It’s a journey that certainly hasn’t been easy but, in Coker’s own words, has been more than worth it.
“It’s been a great experience, and it’s also a learning lesson for our educators for them to make things accessible for [people who have disabilities],” she said. Whether it's scanning a digital copy that can be read by a screen reader or having another student take notes for them in class. Coker is helping to find better solutions in terms of accessibility for other students who face similar disabilities.
“I’m like a penguin,” she said. “Because penguins have this important mission and it’s to get out there to get as much food as they possibly can. They even jump into the ocean [to test for and despite the danger of] killer whales or sea lions—and I believe I am just as determined to do this important work.”
When Coker made the decision to attend TMCC and pursue her degree, she realized that she needed to develop new skill sets for the 21st-century classroom. In addition to learning to use a screen-reader and to type again, she also had to re-acquaint herself with the study of math. “It had been 25 years since I’d been in school, and things changed. I had to catch up. I remembered skills in English because I’ve always loved reading and writing. But the math part, that was difficult,” she said.
Yet, the challenge didn’t phase Coker who describes herself as a go-getter. “Putting an obstacle in front of me is like a red flag, daring me... and I do it,” she said. Math’s unique challenges, though, put Coker to the test. “It wasn’t even because it was math, it was because I am blind. So, doing everything in my head is not something I was used to having to do and… trying to remember all that information... I really wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it,” she said.
And yet, she not only passed her classes but received an A and two B’s in her math classes. This was due to Coker’s highly focused dedication to her goals for her future. “I was there 24/7. I was taking math for two hours a day and four days a week, and coming in on Fridays and Saturdays for four hours at a time for help from the math tutors. It was a lot of work, but it was well worth it,” she said.
Despite only taking only two classes per semester (she has to listen to all the course material instead of being able to read it) she has completed her fourth semester at TMCC and is on-track to receive her associate of science degree in Computer Information Technologies in the Spring of 2023. The journey so far has her pondering the possibility of continuing her education to get her bachelor’s degree.
For now, however, Coker is facing the challenges presented by COVID-19 and remote learning. In her typical style, she’s not letting challenges stop her: instead, she is continuing on her educational journey while working part-time for the Center for Independent Living of Northern Nevada on outreach efforts to help consumers with disabilities remain independent.
“You can do it—I still do it... for me, [these past few months have] been an exercise in motivation and being able to motivate others from home,” she said. “[It’s important] that you see what you can do from home. I’ve had to convince myself of that every day, too. It’s been really important I keep myself motivated, and keep myself positive… and finish things that keep me engaged and active. Remote learning has really helped me to develop those skills more than being able to go to school and participate in a classroom.”
Why Community College—and Scholarships—Matter
For a student who finds value in every semester and every class she has taken, the opportunity to receive scholarships has made learning enjoyable and saturated in meaning. “Obviously, the money has helped me in so many different ways,” she said. “I’m able to get the bills paid and the tuition and fees for school paid without having to sacrifice something else, which [takes a lot of] stress off your shoulders when you’re a student.”
Beyond alleviating financial stress, the scholarships have helped Coker to feel a certain degree of moral support for goals that, without them, would not be attainable. “I’m here to better myself, and having [entities] like Jacobs and Redfield who support me and stand behind me...that says that they believe in me. They are willing to offer me financial support because they know I can do it.” That, she said, is a confidence booster that has helped her every single day.
Scholarship opportunities at community colleges, which Coker calls “the land of second chances,” are vital. “For the people who get left behind or the people who have missed opportunities or circumstances that prevent them from being able to go to school, that’s where community colleges shine. You can say a university education is better, but I don’t think so. Community colleges are so important for people who need a second chance and for people who want to do better,” she said.
Donors to these kinds of scholarships turn distant dreams into reality; for students like Coker who are setting the bar for other nontraditional students—and students with disabilities—she’s showing them that it’s not enough to just “pass.” No matter your circumstances, if you’re willing to work for your dreams, you can achieve excellence not just for one day, but for the rest of your life.
How You Can Help
If you are interested in helping a TMCC student like Coker, consider donating to the TMCC Foundation General Scholarship Fund. These scholarships support students across all disciplines, certificate and degree programs, and donations can be made for any amount.
Thanks to the kindness of donors this past year, the average scholarship awarded to a TMCC student was $1,200, with a minimum scholarship amount of $500 for the academic year. This year, 700 scholarships totaling $846,000 were granted to TMCC students, which helped to cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, supplies and, depending on the scholarship, assisted with living expenses. These scholarships can be the support a student needs to earn their first degree, or to return to school to change their lives for the better.
For information on how you can donate to help a TMCC student like Coker, contact the TMCC Foundation at 775-674-7648.