College of Education and Human Development

Connect Magazine

Giving matters: breathing room

Sarah Etheridge

“There is no future planning when you grow up in poverty.”

Sarah Etheridge’s undergraduate career was anything but smooth. After bouncing from DePaul University to Iowa State, they weren’t feeling confident about their major or future prospects.

“My grades reflected this too,” Etheridge says. “I went from a top honors student in high school to academic probation by the end of my journey.”

They left college to move to Minnesota in 2018 with the goal of improving their mental health and building up mental resilience. When COVID put a pause to everything in 2020, it gave them time to pause and reflect. “I was working five jobs at that time and struggling,” they say. “During the stay-at-home orders, I thought a lot about how the life I was living wasn’t sustainable, and that I had a deep desire to go back to school.”

Etheridge ended up finishing their associate’s degree and then enrolled as a youth studies major in the School of Social Work. They graduated this fall with plans to attend law school. “I will still keep social work, specifically as it impacts young people, at my core as I work toward a career in law focusing on juvenile justice mixed with policy and system change,” they say.

A big help in Etheridge’s journey was receiving the Marie Mellgren-Beth Turner Scholarship. The scholarship, which is given to deserving students in the School of Social Work, was established by Mellgren’s family in her remembrance. Mellgren was herself a social work scholarship winner, receiving one in 1954. Turner was a social worker colleague.

Etheridge says the scholarship helped them take a moment to breathe under the financial strain of trying to complete their degree. “In all of my career journey, I have had a tumultuous experience with financial aid,” they say. “I wasn’t taught important financial strategy as a child, in many ways because there is no future planning when you grow up in poverty. Financial gifts, such as this one, are life and death for students like me. It sounds dramatic, but it’s a reality. For so many of us who are doing our best to ‘make it out’ so to speak, scholarships can either push us toward the completion of our degree, or the lack of them can lead to falling back into the cycle that feels inescapable.”

Etheridge says investing in those who need financial help is social justice work. “When you donate money toward a student who has experienced marginalization of any kind, whether it be through racism, sexism, classism, transphobia, etc.—you’re really pushing those students to feel like they’ve regained a sense of power,” they say. “Never underestimate what goodwill can do for the future of our workforce.”