Breaking Barriers, Building Dreams: ANSWER Scholarship Supports Moms on Their Higher Ed Journey at Queens
For most students, the path toward higher education begins soon after high school graduation. But for some, unexpected challenges can delay, or even derail, the dream of a college degree. For Queens University of Charlotte student RaeDeja Sawyer ’25 and alumna Nokisha Barringer ’23, juggling motherhood, work, and academic aspirations felt like an impossible balancing act. Yet, with their unwavering determination and the generous support of the ANSWER Scholarship, these mothers not only found their way back on track to a college degree but secured a brighter future for their children.
Although Sawyer attempted to start her college career after high school, her father’s failing health required her to leave school and return home to help her mother care for him. A staunch advocate for education, her father encouraged her to return to school until his final days.
“I always seemed to have an excuse for why I couldn’t go back to school, like raising my children and working to support my family,” said Sawyer. “It wasn’t until my father passed away in May 2021 that his words came back to haunt me. I was determined to do this for him, and in August 2021, I enrolled at Central Piedmont Community College to begin my higher ed journey.”
While at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC), Sawyer learned about the ANSWER Scholarship from a friend. Since 2006, the ANSWER Scholarship has sent 126 mothers back to college and has awarded over $718,000 in scholarships to single and married mothers in select counties in the Carolinas. In addition to financial support, the ANSWER Scholarship provides mentorship and professional development to scholars.
“I wanted to help women with children who were struggling so that they could return to college and finish their educations,” said Susan Andersen, founder of the ANSWER Scholarship. “We strongly believe that when you educate a mom, you educate her children. Our Mentors For Mom program gives them the continued support and resources they need so they can keep pushing through and remain in school until completion.”
Nearing graduation from CPCC, Sawyer began her search for a place to earn her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in professional writing and rhetoric. After researching different schools, she applied to only one – Queens University.
“I wanted a university that was going to nurture my entire being – a place that not only cared about my grades, but about the type of person I am and the impact I’m going to have on the world around me,” said Sawyer. “When I started learning more about Queens and came across their motto, ‘not to be served, but to serve,’ I knew I found a school that embodied the values and principles that truly represent who I am. It was a no-brainer – Queens was where I belong!”
For fellow ANSWER Scholar Nokisha Barringer, continuing her nursing education while working full-time for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs as a surgical specialty nurse proved especially challenging.
“I always wanted to go back to school to obtain my Bachelor of Science in Nursing, but I was worried about how I’d pay for school. I couldn’t quit my job and had to juggle being a mom and student at all once,” said Barringer. “I heard so much about Queens’ connections to the healthcare networks in Charlotte and knew I’d have even more career opportunities after graduating. Earning my BSN from Queens was an important step toward my goal of becoming a nurse practitioner.”
Barringer relied on the support of her family and her mentor to carry her through the struggles she faced while working full-time and preparing to graduate.
“One of the most important people to me throughout my journey was my ANSWER Scholarship mentor,” she said. “She stood by me through it all and even attended my pinning ceremony, a special rite of passage for nursing students. She often texted me with words of encouragement, telling me how proud she was and checking in on me to make sure I was ok – that meant a lot.”
While at Queens, both Sawyer and Barringer have also built strong relationships with their professors and have relied on their support to help them navigate their unique educational experiences.
“Not only can other students learn from their non-traditional classmates, but I myself have been so inspired by their determination and dedication to their coursework,” said Assistant Professor Amy Sentementes, Ph.D. “As a result of their diverse experiences outside the classroom, non-traditional students understand and appreciate the power of higher education. They may face myriad time constraints as a result of work or family responsibilities, so they learn quickly how to manage their time and prioritize tasks in order of importance. Additionally, their many life experiences bring novel perspectives to discussions and allow the classroom environment to thrive.”
After graduating in Dec. 2023, Barringer wants to continue working with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
“I feel strongly about providing compassionate care to our veterans,” she said. “These brave men and women have risked their lives and have given so much, and I want to give back to them. Sometimes they feel like they’re left out and I want to let them know how much I appreciate their service.”
Sawyer and Barringer’s stories embody the resilience and determination of mothers who often have to make tremendous sacrifices. They serve as a testament to the transformative power of education and the unwavering spirit of women who, against all odds, rewrite their narratives and inspire others to do the same.
They join an impressive list of fellow ANSWER Scholars who have graduated from Queens University:
Erica Lanausse ’23, BSN
Raegan Ferro ’22, BSN
Amanda Thompson ’22, BSN
M.J. Vang ’21, BA
Grace Grenga ’21, BA
Erica Flowers ’20, BSN
Viridiana Blackburn ’20, BS
Shayna Gales ’19, BA
Tonya Faulkner ’08, BA