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BU scholarship helps local parents go back to school

Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr.

A person could learn a lot from JoAn Blake. Chief among those lessons — the importance of finishing what you start.

After a long layoff, Blake, a 40-year-old Dorchester resident and mother of four, is once again working toward a college degree. She’s one of two adult students enrolled in Boston University Metropolitan College through the college’s Scholarship for Parents program.

Conceived in the summer of 2007, the scholarship offers parents whose children attend either Boston or Chelsea public schools a chance to receive a 50 percent scholarship to take classes at the Metropolitan College, a major enticement at a time when everyone’s eyes are on the bottom line.

To be eligible for the merit-based award, parents must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and must have previously completed at least six college courses, earning a grade point average of 3.0 or above.

While the Metropolitan College is looking to bring in students, the scholarship requires applicants to have previously completed college coursework as a way to make sure potential students can handle the workload, according to Katherine Meyer, the college’s community program manager.

Meyer says the idea behind the scholarship was a desire to help parents share the inspiration of pursuing a college education with their kids.

“We are looking to create an intergenerational connection, as well as allow parents to be role models for their children,” said Meyer.

Blake said her return to the classroom has had the desired effect on her kids — watching their mother study has made them want to be better students.

“They see me work and see my grades, and now they work to get better grades than me,” she said.

It’s also done quite a bit for Blake herself.

“[The scholarship] has made a huge difference in my life, because it lets you know that you still can achieve,” she added.

Helping remind older or non-traditional students that they can still have academic success is one of the goals of Metropolitan College.

The school aims to make higher education more accessible to those who may want to get back to the books but, whether because of family, work or other factors, need more flexibility in their schedule than standard college coursework offers. Toward that end, many of the college’s classes are held in the evening, after standard work hours, and students have the option of enrolling either part-time or full-time.

Recruiting applicants for the initial parent scholarships has been a long process, including a number of appearances at community-based events in Boston and Chelsea, according to Jessica Hill, an AmeriCorps VISTA Fellow working with Meyer on launching the scholarship program.

It was at one such community event held at Roxbury Community College (RCC) that Meyer and Hill introduced the scholarship program to Blake.

Blake was enrolled at RCC when Meyer and Hill made their presentation about the Scholarship for Parents program. She was already taking classes and three of her four children are in the Boston Public Schools system. It sounded like a perfect match.

“I was interested because it offered a way for me to take classes at a well-known school,” Blake explained.

Blake still wanted to learn more about Metropolitan College and the scholarship, though. She said she was able to speak with both Meyer and Hill whenever she had questions.

“Katherine and Jessica were very friendly and helpful, giving information even if I was not going to apply to the school or [for] the scholarship,” said Blake.

With the help of Meyer and Hill, Blake made an appointment to speak with a Boston University councilor about her grades, and to learn what she would need to do to transfer into Metropolitan College.

“BU wanted my high school transcripts and my RCC transcripts,” Blake said. “I was scared because I have been out of school for a long time.”

For Blake, the hardest part of the application was writing the essay.

She decided to write about her first child, Shaina. At 10 years old, Blake said, Shaina was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. She was enrolled in a clinical trial that provided her with drugs and treatment that destroyed the cancerous cells, sending the disease into remission.

Shaina’s story, unfortunately, doesn’t have a happy ending: She was killed by a drunk driver at the age of 19.  

“I was in shock; I didn’t know what to do. All the plans I made were destroyed,” said Blake.  “I was completely lost.”

To honor her daughter’s memory, Blake is studying biomedical laboratory and clinical science at Metropolitan College, working specifically with a clinical research program affiliated with Boston Medical Center.

While Blake is one of only two students enrolled in the scholarship program, Meyer and Hill said they want to expand the program to cover half of the costs for 10 students. It’s not there yet, but they said they are excited to see their efforts begin to pay off.

Metropolitan College will be hosting an open house on Saturday, March 28, 2009, at 10 a.m. For more information about the open house or the Scholarship for Parents, call 617-353-6000 or e-mail