Back to School with a Purpose

In her daughter, senior English ed. major and Ross Pendergraft Scholar Sarah Bradshaw has found the motivation she was missing


Sarah Bradshaw“Even with Pell Grants, I still had to pay a lot, and sometimes I couldn’t afford some of my books,” says Sarah Bradshaw, a 24-year-old senior majoring in English with teacher licensure. “Because of this scholarship, this is the first semester I’ve ever been able to pay for all my books without borrowing money.”


The $2,000 Ross Pendergraft Scholarship allowing her to do so is given to a junior or senior with financial need who has demonstrated academic excellence, and Bradshaw has certainly done that. She maintains a 3.53 GPA, has appeared on the Dean’s List all four of her semesters at UA Fort Smith, and recently took office as vice-president of the campus chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, a selective international English honor society.


As paths so often do, though, Bradshaw’s has wandered some along the way. In the summer of 2007, after dropping out of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville two years earlier, she was back home in Van Buren, divorced, raising a year-and-a-half-old daughter, and not sure exactly where to go from there.


When Bradshaw’s parents encouraged her to at least visit UA Fort Smith and think about returning to school, she found that she fit right in. “I started here in fall 2007,” she says, “and I liked it, I really did. I was surprised how much, because growing up here I never thought I’d go to UA Fort Smith, but it’s a radically different school now than it was then. It just went really well, and after one semester, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”


What Bradshaw wants to do is teach English. She’ll spend the spring 2010 semester interning and then hopes to land a job with a local junior high or high school starting next fall. She already has her sights set on a Master’s but wants to wait until she’s Praxis III-certified, which requires at least two years of teaching. If scholarships can be thought of as investments in a community’s future, it’s tough to imagine a more promising security than Bradshaw.


The catalyst for her newfound success? Her daughter, who turns four in December. “She’s the reason I have the motivation to do as well as I’ve done,” Bradshaw says. “I’ve had the experience of working full-time and going to school full-time back when I was 18, 19 years old, and I thought it was just so hard back then. It’s a lot harder when you have a kid, but I do a lot better now than before.”


The UA Fort Smith faculty hasn’t hurt, either. Bradshaw is particularly grateful to Interim English Department Chair Dr. Melissa Whiting, who was instrumental in getting Bradshaw her scholarship, but, she says, “Almost everyone I’ve had for my English and education classes has just been phenomenal. And they know you; you’re not just a number.”