First-generation college student at SMWC celebrated for hardwork, commitment

December 14th, 2016 | SMWC

Haley Shuler of New Haven at the “Realizing the Dream” banquet
Sophomore Haley Shuler was honored during the 27th “Realizing the Dream” banquet by Independent Colleges Indiana Nov. 5 in Indianapolis. Her left: former teacher Trent Klepper; Her right: ICI President/CEO Richard Ludwick and keynote speaker Bart Caylor.

By Dianne Frances D. Powell

Haley Shuler’s parents have a lot to be proud of.

The 19-year-old sophomore at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) is making the most out of the opportunities given her. She plays soccer for the College team, she holds two on-campus jobs, she participates in student activities, all while doing her coursework for an undergraduate degree in biology.

She is the first in her family to attend college and her goal is to be a dentist one day.

On Nov. 5, Shuler was among 31 first-generation college students from Indiana’s independent colleges and universities celebrated for outstanding achievement in the freshman year and successfully advancing toward completing a bachelor’s degree. Organized by Independent Colleges Indiana (ICI), an organization to which SMWC belongs, the Realizing the Dream banquet took place in Indianapolis.

Born in Fort Wayne and now a resident of New Haven, Shuler is the daughter of a truck driver and an employee at a local chocolate factory. She’s always been interested in school; she made the decision to go to college as soon as she was old enough to realize what it is. Growing up, her parents instilled in her the value of a college education, which, experts have said is the surest way toward upward social mobility.

“It can get you a lot more than just a job,” Shuler said of higher education. “I hope to have a career that I love.”

While Shuler always knew she was destined for college, she never imagined she could attend a private college like SMWC. She initially thought she could not afford it. “I’ve never considered going to a private college. I just didn’t think it was in my future.”

“But I came here and I fell in love with the campus. I had that ‘aha moment’ walking down the avenue,” she said describing a campus landmark.

Shuler initially decided to attend another school, a public university, but when opportunity knocked for an athletic scholarship at SMWC, she took it. “I ended up signing right after high school graduation,” she said. In addition to the athletic scholarship, she also receives the SMWC 21st Century award.

Haley Shuler at highschool graduation
SMWC student Haley Shuler pose for a photo with sister Gabby and parents, Scott and Michelle at her highschool graduation in 2015. Photo courtesy Haley Shuler

Coming to SMWC changed her life. It empowered her to think and dream big. Opportunities opened for her. “I honestly don’t imagine being anywhere else,” she said.

She spoke highly of her professors, whom she believes are preparing her for a bright future. When she experienced a scheduling conflict for classes this coming spring semester, a professor even moved the class time so she can attend. “I don’t think that would have happened anywhere else,” Shuler said. “They’re just so willing to make your experience better,” she said.

At the Realizing the Dream banquet, Shuler’s commitment and hard work was celebrated in the presence of her parents and a second-grade teacher who was most influential to her. She received $2,500 to help with college costs and her teacher, Trent Klepper of New Haven Primary School, received $1,000 professional development grant.

Shuler didn’t let obstacles stop her from attending college. Other students can do the same. “I’ve worked really hard to get where I am,” she said. “I’ve had better opportunities because of what my family sacrificed. I just really appreciate everything that my parents have done for me to be able to be here.”

One out of every three students on ICI-member campuses is first generation, according to an ICI news release. “Generous financial aid provided by the campuses themselves, combined with state and federal grants, makes a private college education a possibility for all students in Indiana,” it said.

Shuler is appreciative of the opportunities and help given to her. She shows a drive to push forward to make her family proud.

“Achieving what they didn’t have the opportunity to achieve makes me feel obligated to do well for them,” she said. “To make them happy and proud because I know they want the best for me,” she added.

“And I know this is the best for me.”