Degree For Life

Students and staff of Utah Valley University participate in free on-campus COVID-19 testing in the Grand Ballroom at UVU in Orem on Nov. 16, 2020. (Gabriel Mayberry/UVU Marketing)

Community health workers share common ground with those they serve. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they have helped provide timely, trusted and accurate information about transmission and precautions.

At UVU, students like Brenda Searle, studying public health, also have been on the frontlines of testing for the virus.

“I’ve been doing an internship with the UVU COVID-19 testing team to meet the final requirements of my community health degree,” she said. “UVU gave me the confidence that I can do whatever I put my mind to.”

Searle, who graduates this year, says that learning to serve others is only possible because of the exceptional care she has received as a student. “Everyone in the program acted as my cheerleaders, and the UVU faculty, administration and students were so welcoming from the time I got here.”

It’s exactly the type of support she needed. The journey that brought Searle to Utah Valley University wasn’t an easy one. A single mother of almost three years, she suddenly became responsible for providing for her family — but she didn’t feel that the degree she previously earned was enough to help her.

“At the time, I had an associate degree from UVU that I had earned 20 years prior. I realized that I didn’t have much work experience or schooling. My options were to get a job that would pay me $10 per hour or go back to school.”

Searle decided to further her education, but she worried she wouldn’t be able to afford it. She also was concerned about acceptance by peers who might be decades younger.

“I was terrified to go back to school because I was in my 40s, and I was worried about being so much older than everyone else. I worried about my technological skills and not fitting in. I was also very worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up or comprehend the course content,” said Searle.

She was motivated, however, to create a better future for herself and her children. “I’m just going to do this,” she said. It’s been her attitude from the start.

She was awarded two scholarships through the UVU Women’s Success Center (WSC), which solved the first problem. She says her second concern was unfounded. She felt this on her first day at UVU.

“The faculty, administration and students were all so loving and kind to me. They were helpful; I made friends with other students my age and friends with those much younger than me. It was amazing.”

The WSC also has provided Searle with a foundation of support.

“The Women’s Success Center really helped me. I would recommend their services to other students on campus. I applied for scholarships through the WSC, and those allowed me to attend school without having to worry so much about finances.”

Searle enjoys public health but plans to continue her education after graduating from UVU. She is applying to a sonography program at Weber State with the goal of working in a hospital setting, where she hopes to perform women’s imaging.

She says UVU provided the tools and confidence needed to apply for such a program and the ability to provide for her family.

“I can finish things that I start. Getting my degree from UVU has been everything to me because now I can provide for my family. Most of all, I hope that my children learn resilience and know that if something is hard and scary, it is still possible.”

Women are encouraged to take advantage of the Women’s Success Center as Searle did. The center offers women the support and resources they need to complete their degree and gain the confidence, opportunities and knowledge that come with a diploma. UVU is dedicated to providing higher education opportunities to all who seek them, especially to women.

For more information, visit uvu.edu/wsc.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!