Anna Wesch is on a mission to prove to her three children that, with a little hard work and determination, everyone can make a difference.
“I am a married mom of three, so obviously not a traditional student. This is my first college experience,” she said in a recent interview via videoconference. “My son is 24, and my daughters are 20 and 16. The older one has not gone to college yet, but I keep telling him, if I can do it, you can do it. This can be done. It can be difficult, but it’s a great experience, and I really appreciate it.”
As Anna works to set an example for all who dream of achieving their bachelor’s degree, hundreds of donors to the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships are setting an example, too. Their generosity allowed the University of Nebraska at Omaha to award Anna a scholarship this fall. She is one of 2020’s seven recipients of the scholarship, receiving financial assistance thanks to hundreds of generous alumni and supporters of the university.
“When I got the email that I received the scholarship, I was reading it and I was telling my husband, ‘do you think it’s real?’” she said. “I barely made it through high school, so to get something like that and be acknowledged for something like that, I was like, ‘I don’t know if this is real!’ So when I realized it was, I was super excited.”
While there are many scholarships at UNO, the UNO Fund for Student Scholarships is the only one that sees hundreds of alumni and supporters come together to make gifts — last year as low as $5 and as high as $5,000 — to give directly back to students. Thanks to UNO Fund donors, UNO was able to offer Anna a renewable scholarship to cover much of her tuition through her expected graduation in the fall of 2021.
Anna’s path toward that impending graduation date has been an unconventional one, but one paved with determination and grit. An Omaha native, Anna’s education journey started when got a job in the health office of an elementary school, going back to work once her youngest was able to go to preschool.
“I ended up really enjoying some of the kids that would come visit the health office that were from the special education room, so I asked to be moved,” she said. “I was a special education paraprofessional for about six or seven years. I did that while the kids were young, and then when my son was a little bit older and could help me with my younger daughters, I went and got a full-time job. I did that for a couple years, but I really missed the kids and the school community.”
Anna also felt that she could make an even greater impact on the lives of young students with special needs if she had her four-year degree.
“I kind of always thought about going to college, but I never was good in school, so I didn’t really know that it was something I could do,” she said. “Then my mother-in-law passed away, and then a year later my dad passed away. And I was like, ok, life is short, and if I want to do something, I have to do it. So I decided I would start taking a class at Metropolitan Community College, and if I made it through that class, maybe I would take another one, and then maybe I would take two classes. So I kind of started out that way, and then I was like ‘ok, now I’m here and I’m doing it, so I’m just going to keep going.’”
Anna pushed forward and made the transfer to UNO last fall. Today, she is working on her bachelor’s degree in education, studying in UNO’s early childhood inclusive program. Despite the added challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anna said she has found the faculty, staff and students at UNO very helpful in navigating the program.
“The advisors at UNO have just been super awesome and super helpful,” she said. “The teachers have all been really great. I’ve had a really, really great experience.”
She is also grateful for the encouragement and support she’s received from her family.
“My husband has been my biggest supporter,” she said. “I would not have been able to even start on this path without his support.”
Anna also said she’s found inspiration from receiving the UNO Fund scholarship and knowing that donors both large and small have confidence in her and want to help her succeed.
“It’s just so unexpected,” she said. “I’m so very grateful, and it’s so very thoughtful to give something like that for people who are working toward their goal. It definitely helps to make things a little easier and makes it a little more like, ‘OK, I can do this,’ and to know that there’s people that believe I can do it too and make me successful, that’s just really cool.”
Soon Anna will begin her practicum, and she is excited to return to the classroom, as her true passion lies in the impact she can have on her young students.
“There’s a certain energy in an elementary school with kids, and it’s just so much fun, so I cannot wait to be back in a school,” she said. “I was doing some volunteer work, and then the pandemic hit, so I wasn’t able to do that anymore. I’m just ready to be back and helping and making a difference. Even as a para, you’re making a difference — it could be very small, but it’s amazing to be a part of. I’m ready to be doing that again.”
If all goes according to plan, Anna will graduate with her degree in December of 2021. With this degree, she’s be qualified to teach both regular and special education classes from birth to third grade. While she’s still considering which next step might be best for her and her students, her ultimate goal is to become an early childhood intervention specialist.
Anna also clearly recognizes the significance of her achievements and studies. As the first in her family to attend college and achieve a degree — all while raising kids and working part-time — she knows her quest to make an impact on the lives of young children will also make an impact on those who are in her same situation.
“I’d take a class, and I’d be like this is really hard, I don’t think I can do it,” she said, “but if I don’t do it, what kind of example am I setting? So I just keep pushing along.”
Anna thanked all who have given to the UNO Fund scholarship for helping to make her journey possible. She hopes their example, as well has her own journey, inspire others to continue to support this program so more students like her will have the opportunity to achieve their own educational goals and dreams.
“I’m really excited to be here,” she said. “Nobody in my family has gone to college. My parents didn’t go to college, so I’m the first in my family to actually try it out. It’s been kind of a wild ride!”