Sweet Rewards

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sweet Rewards

Dessert Fest brought ‘88 graduates Brad and Kathy Wheelock together with both recipients of the Wheelock Education Scholarship they endowed: sophomore Melissa Wells, White Bear Lake, far left, and junior Tandehl Collentine, Anoka, second from right.

For nine years the college has set aside an April evening to bring together individuals who contribute in a variety of ways to the success of deserving education students. Dessert Fest 2007 celebrated those involved in giving and receiving 128 education scholarships totaling $97,000. Besides thanking donors, students introduce professors who have had the greatest influence on their studies, as well as family and friends who have come to share in
their honor.

For some scholarship recipients, the opportunity to personally express appreciation to their benefactors is an emotional experience. Laura Fritz, St. Augusta, was visibly overcome as she got up to accept one of five Melissa Johnson Memorial Scholarships for Teacher Education, established nine years ago in honor of Melissa "Missy" Johnson as a community response to a tragedy. Missy was a St. Cloud State University education student who was abducted and murdered in July of 1991, just three days before completing the requirements for her degree.

"I hadn’t realized what it meant," said Fritz as she rose to accept the scholarship from Melissa’s mother, Gayle Johnson, of Alexandria, who sat next to her at their table. Fritz’s words were said through tears as she responded to her introduction, which included an explanation of how the memorial scholarships were initiated with gifts from family, friends and community members who contributed as a way to mourn their loss and celebrate Missy’s life.

Fritz said she had known who the scholarship was named for, but it was the photo projected on the big screen on stage that prompted the surge of emotion.

Johnson has participated in Dessert Fest every year, representing Melissa and meeting the students who will carry on the dream of teaching that her daughter was deprived of achieving. "These scholarships are very important because that’s what Melissa was all about – teaching and her love of kids," she said. "That will continue through these students, and I feel very proud of them."

The scholarship is the first Fritz has received in her college career, and it will have a significant impact on her last semester this fall. She’ll only have to work one day a week, instead of three. "I was a ball of energy that night when I got that letter saying I got the scholarship," she said. "It means a lot to me."

Gayle Johnson and Laura Fritz

Gayle Johnson, left, and student Laura Fritz, recipient of a Melissa Johnson Memorial Scholarship for Teacher Education, got to know each other over cake and coffee before the Dessert Fest program. Johnson represents donors of the scholarship named for her late daughter, Melissa "Missy" Johnson.

The Dessert Fest event also meant a lot to Fritz. "It was a great night," she said. "It was nice to see so many people recognized and to be honored with others being educated in this important field."

Prabal Shah, graduate student from Nepal, received the Dennis and Anne Fields Scholarship in Information Media at Dessert Fest. The scholarship will help him achieve his goal of making a difference in his homeland.

"I come from a country where thousands of children never get a chance to go to school," said Shah as he thanked the donors of his scholarship, named for Dennis Fields, a retired SCSU professor of information media, and Anne Fields, a former SCSU lab school teacher and assistant registrar.

Melissa Wells, this year’s recipient of two scholarships, including the Wheelock Education Scholarship, talked about being on the receiving end of her donors’ generosity: "It means someone is behind you, supporting you every step of the way," she said.

Brad and Kathy (Mundhenke) Wheelock, 1988 alumni, established their scholarship for education students three years ago to support students like Wells. Their goal is to assist some of the many students who need to work in order to fund their education, as they did. Now the couple is giving back to enable others to achieve their educational dreams.

Elaine Leach, a retired faculty member in the College of Education, established the Scholarship for Women in Educational Leadership nine years ago for women who are planning to continue their careers in education as principals or superintendents in rural Minnesota. "For women wanting to prepare for school administration, some of the challenges are tuition, books, child care," Leach said. "Rural schools deserve and will benefit from these women in administration. It’s a pleasure to contribute in this way."

Graduate student Heidi Hahn, of Baxter, this year’s recipient of Leach’s scholarship, said of meeting Elaine: "It’s truly been an honor. I’ve found out we have quite a few connections, including some administrators who have been my mentors."

"Tonight represents an important intersection: parents who are proud of their children and feel their own sense of accomplishment; professors who labor to impart their knowledge in the hopes that their students will be successful in their professional field of study; and – of course – our donors, those of you who have chosen to give back to the University so that the college experience is more accessible and enriched for those who follow," College of Education Dean Kate Steffens told Dessert Fest participants.

- Marsha Shoemaker

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