T H E P I T T S B U R G H F O U N D AT I O N 1 4 F O R U M THE ANDOLSEK SCHOLARSHIP IS ALLOWING ME TO ATTEND THE UNIVERSITY I’VE DREAMED OF, BUT IT HAS ALSO MADE ME AWARE OF THE RESPONSIBILITY I HAVE AS A FIRST-GENERATION COLLEGE STUDENT AND A SCHOLARSHIP RECIPIENT. Leandra Nealer The Guidance Department at Nealer’s Burrell Area High School provides all students with the same resources and information to assist with college, scholarship and loan applications. But Counselor Sandra Oskin says many students disregard the information. Nealer listened and followed through. “Leandra was remarkably independent,” says Oskin. “She never came to me with the expectation that I would lay everything out for her. Instead, she worked through the process herself, only coming to me for reassur- ance that she was doing everything correctly.” Nealer’s parents encouraged her through the entire process, includ- ing continually telling her how proud they were. Her father also told Nealer about every scholarship he found for which he thought she should apply. Though her parents were supportive, they weren’t able to advise her from personal experience. Nealer managed everything on her own — from researching schools to scheduling the SAT examination to applying for financial aid. Knowledge of the application process isn’t the only barrier for first-gen students like Nealer. They are heavily reliant on financial aid and scholarships to afford their educations. According to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, 77 percent of first-gen college students come from households making less than $50,000 per year. “Financially, it’s been very daunting,” says Nealer, who is now attending the University of Chicago to pursue a degree in chemistry. “The university has been generous with financial aid and scholarships, but it’s still a struggle to figure out how to afford this year and the next. I really wasn’t sure I was going to be able to go to my dream school even after I was accepted.” And Nealer has a lot of company living with such uncertainty. The U.S. Department of Education reports that 54 percent of first-generation college students leave before graduating because they run out of money. The Andolsek scholarship addresses this obstacle by dividing the award payments over four years as recipients continue pursuing their degrees. “This scholarship was designed to enable and encourage recipients to receive funding over four years, as long as they continue to meet the criteria, because Eugene would have wanted to support them as much as possible” says Beam. As this year’s scholarship recipient, Nealer will receive $3,000 annually over the next four years, a total of $12,000. “The Andolsek scholarship is allowing me to attend the university I’ve dreamed of, but it has also made me aware of the responsibility I have as a first-generation college student and a scholarship recipient,” she says. “People like my parents and Eugene Andolsek have left a legacy for other people like me who otherwise wouldn’t have these opportunities.” by Keera Frye | communications intern with The Community Foundation of Westmoreland County and a student at Point Park University.