For many foreign students, getting a college degree is often a monumental financial struggle.
And, for Sheldeen Joseph, 23, a Vincentian-born athletic student at Bowie State University in Maryland, the task is even more arduous.
But, despite great adversity, Joseph, a basketball student, is determined to succeed. After much agony of financing her education, Joseph may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, with financial backing from some humanitarian nationals and organizations in the United States.
They are equally adamant in making her dream becomes reality, contributing significantly to her tuition for the Fall 2015 and Spring 2016 semesters.
One diligent and benevolent national, James Cordice — the architect of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ participation in the illustrious Penn Relays in Philadelphia and former president of the Philadelphia-based St. Vincent and the Grenadines Organization of Pennsylvania (SVGOP) – has even offered to serve as a guarantee of a loan to the tune of US$9,000.00 so that Joseph “can finish what she started.”
With Cordice’s aid and intervention, Joseph stands to graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bowie State University.
After Joseph’s fervent appeal for tuition assistance for the Fall 2015 semester, the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Nationals Association of Washington, D.C. (SVGNA) and SVGOP contributed US$2,000.00 each towards her tuition.
Arlette Dopwell-James, the former SVGOP president, at Cordice’s urging, was also instrumental in helping to raise another US$1,000.00 among nationals in the Pennsylvania area and from among SVGOP members.
“Having demonstrated financial support from SVGNA and others to Bowie State, Ms. Joseph was able to continuously follow up with the school’s financial aid office, and they arranged the remaining sources of tuition and housing,” said SVGNA in the Fall 2015 issue of its newsletter, Hairouna Times.
In her appeal for urgent financial aid, at the end of July last year, Joseph, a former student at St. Joseph Convent Marriaqua and Emmanuel High School Mesopotamia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, wrote to SVGOP.
The letter was forwarded to SVGOP and the Brooklyn-based umbrella Vincentian group, Council of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Organizations, U.S.A., Inc. (COSAGO), for assistance. SVGNA and SVGOP responded affirmatively to the appeal.
Joseph said she was the first ever in her family to attend high school and college, and was invited in 2012 to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) for a basketball tournament.
She also said she was one of two female students to gain a full basketball scholarship to Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, Ill.
But Joseph said she was unable to adopt the offer “because of my financial situation.”
She, therefore, returned home and “went hunting for any financial support I could have found.”
Joseph said she made appointments to see the minister of sports, “tried for the prime minister,” visited the manager of the National Lottery, “and I wasn’t able to see the ministers, nor was I able to get anything from lottery.”
But she said, while all her visits were “discouraging,” she still didn’t allow them to “distract me from where I was trying to head.”
Joseph wrote that she returned to the BVI [Tortola], where her current coach [Ronald Simmons] and aunt [Ena Christopher] did “their best to take care of me.”
Still, she said she didn’t know how she was “going to make it to the States [United States] for school, because I did not have the money at the time to maintain myself in school.”
She, however, said that Wayne Williams, current coach of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ National Women’s Basketball Team, came to her rescue by purchasing a plane ticket so she could travel to the US.
Joseph said, after enrolling at Sauk Valley Community College, on Aug. 27, 2012, the struggle that she had faced to get to the US remains with her “up to this given day.”
But she said it has “pushed” her “each day to be better,” disclosing that, although her grade point average (GPA) during the first semester at Sauk Valley wasn’t her best, she was still able to obtain a 3.0, dropping later to 2.83.
At the same time, Joseph said her athletic year “went well;” she was voted the “most improved” and given the “All Conference Award.”
Her last semester at Sauk Valley also showed significant academic improvement, graduating with an Associate degree in criminal justice, with a 3.30 GPA.
Athletically, she finished as the second leading scorer for the Sauk Valley team, with “most hustle”, “most valuable player for the region” and “most steals.”
But though those awards were “exciting,” Joseph said the “most appealing” was her academic awards; she made the President’s List and the Academic Conference Team.
Now armed with a full basketball scholarship to attend Bowie State University, Joseph said the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) gave her just one year to complete.
During that year, she averaged 3.636 and made the Dean’s List. But, by last July, she still had another year to finish her bachelor’s degree.
The catch, though, she said, is that she is not eligible for academic or U.S. federal financial aid “because I’m not American.
“I’m currently trying my best to seek academic funds due to my powerful GPA,” she wrote to SVOP. “I’m not certain that I would get any, but I’m still looking.
“I’m here to ask this organization if there is any way that you and your committee can assist me with completing this desire, this goal of mine,” said Joseph, stating that her Fall 2015 tuition was US$10, 047.75, with housing at US$4,500.
“If I’m not able to come up with this money, I would have to leave the States, because I have a student visa, and criteria states that I must be enrolled full time to remain in status here in the States,” she added.
“I’m very proud of where I’ve come from and how much I’ve grown during this journey, this experience.” Joseph continued. “I might be a stranger to your ears, but I’m still family when St. Vincent [and the Grenadines] comes into play. “I’m just trying to finish what I started.”
After SVGOP, SVGNA, James-Dopwell, Cordice, Kenley “Shortmus” John, the former president of the humanitarian Vincentian group VincyCares, and others intervened, Joseph was able to complete the Fall 2015 semester.
And, with the Cordice’s financial backing for her last semester, Joseph is now more confident than ever of finally achieving her goal.
When ask why he would place himself in a situation where, if Joseph does not repay the loan, he will be left with the bill, Cordice simply told Caribbean Life: “I have been disappointed by students before, and wasted time, money and resources. Sheldeen is not in that category. She will do exactly what she was born to do. She will be a stalwart.”
Cordice, however, said that, in forthcoming weeks, he will be asking Vincentian community groups and individuals in the United States for donations, and raising funds in an effort to reduce and eliminate the US$ 9,000.00 loan.