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STEM scholar overcomes many obstacles to earn degree

Tidewater Community College STEM Promise scholar Rachel Roszko never thought she’d go to college. But when she took her son to tour Old Dominion University, she was inspired to pursue higher education as well.

“Going to school tuition-free made my dream possible. TCC would not have been an option for my family even if we ate PB and J sandwiches every day,” Rachel said. “Earning a full scholarship also gave me the boost and confidence to conquer college.”

The Air Force veteran will earn an Associate of Science in Science this May. The journey has been fruitful, but not easy.

Rachel, 43, has faced serious health concerns including a cancer scare, a heart arrhythmia requiring surgery, and a diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In addition, as a stay-at-home mom of three, including a special needs child, the demands on her time are also very real.

“Having so many medical issues and caring for my daughter can make it difficult to get out of the house,” she said. “But after enrolling at TCC, I had a full day of school in real time and that was a huge help to my mental health.”

Rachel is thankful that she could complete the bulk of her degree online. “Caring for my daughter and dealing with PTSD made it difficult to be in a traditional classroom program,” she said. “But with my online classes and teachers using document cameras and technology, it was like having a front-row seat in every class.”

She added, “My professors were supportive and worked with me through every situation. If I had a panic attack and had to leave class, my teachers were there making sure I was okay,” she said. “They are very human and understanding.”

With a passion for animals and conservation, Rachel hopes to parlay her degree into a career teaching biology. She will continue working on a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology at Oregon State University online.

Rachel’s latest rescue transport was a cormorant.

In her free hours, Rachel volunteers with local rescue agencies including Evelyn’s Wildlife Refuge and Tidewater Wildlife Rescue. She picks up animals in trouble and transports them to local rescue centers or veterinarians. She has recently helped an opossum, a pelican, a baby cooper’s hawk and a cormorant find safe havens.

“I’ve always been an animal person but growing up I didn’t think I was smart enough for college,” Rachel said. “When I started homeschooling my kids, I fell in love with science. Once I took my first biology class at TCC, I was totally hooked.”

Rachel’s family is proud of her success. Her husband Bernie and children Rosie, Anthony, and Eden are her biggest cheerleaders. “I wanted my kids to see that there’s not ever a completely closed door and paths have forks in the road,” she said. “It’s never too late to do something you love.”

TCC’s STEM Promise Scholarship program is accepting applications now through March 31. STEM Promise covers all tuition and fees for four semesters at TCC. Students who complete their degrees transfer to their selected universities as juniors. To learn more about the program visit here.