meet UWW scholarship winner Darlene Willhite

Friday, April 4, 2014

Meet 51-year-old Darlene Willhite from Athol, MA.  Darlene is a UWW student and recipient of a Misty Catherine Bassi Memorial UWW Scholarship.  She shared some of her story with us, and what winning this scholarship award has meant to her.  Her concentration: Holistic Health Care.  Her advisor:  Abby Dallmann.

Every non-traditional age student has a story. What’s your story? 

Life brings us on many paths to get to where we need to go and my life path brought me through my youth, high school, and onto 30 years of marriage, raising four fantastically talented children (who are all making their own mark in the world as adults now), caring for my parents (the circle of life), and then, through the loss of: my marriage, my parents, two sisters, several nieces and a nephew.

It was after the unexpected death of my niece, who was 13 months younger than me that I really stopped to look at me and who I was, what difference I was making in the world, and if tomorrow happened to be my last day would I be satisfied with my time here.  I read a story once and it said all of your life is listed on your tombstone with a dash between the date you came into the world and the date you departed this world, and it asked are you happy with what you accomplished in that dash?  And, I was.  I had a wonderful family, a long marriage, and four beautiful children, but it seemed I was a daughter, a wife, a mom and it made me ponder, where did Darlene go?  I started reading a lot of self-realization books (I love books), I started teaching myself Yoga, and I began meditating, and I started training in martial arts.  I really started to look within and find myself and think about how I wanted to expand and make a difference, not just in my home and with my family; but in the community and be part of making a difference for others.

In 2007 I started pursuing my degree at the local community college.  It was part-time and I was unsure exactly what I wanted to major in and very nervous about going back to school. I took a couple of classes in Complementary Health Care.  One was: Transforming Stress (it seemed like a good choice – as my dad had a stroke and one of my sisters was diagnosed with terminal cancer), the other was Yoga.  This was such a therapeutic experience for me at a very fragile, emotional and transitional time of my life.  I took every CHC course they had and the spirituality aspects, the grounding and holistic nature of them gave me insight to the “muscles of the soul” I had inherited from my family (especially my mom).  However, in 2009, I found myself single, unemployed and responsible for the care of my mom.  I managed to stay in my college classes part-time until 2011.  The need for full-time employment, my mom’s increasing needs (a top priority) and life in general put college and an actual degree back on the to-do list!

With the passing of my mom this past February, I found myself in a big old house (circa 1850), with my youngest son and two dogs in a job that I loved, but with little potential for growth.  Missing my mom, desperately, I needed to fill my time and realized it was time to go for that degree!  So, I applied to UWW; something I had learned of years earlier but at the time, had no prior college credits.  Upon being accepted, I was giddy with excitement and challenged by the fear of the unknown.  UWW was a big step up from the local community college.

Why did you choose UMass Amherst UWW to complete your degree?

Choosing UWW was a way for me to bring life and work experiences to my degree.  The concept of being able to incorporate pieces of my life that have shaped me into who I am and make it part of the degree that will be part of the future me is so exciting and intimidating, at the same time.

Can you tell us a little about your current job or work experience?

My work experience has varied from being a substitute teacher, to homeschooling my four children, to being a librarian (twice!), a fitness instructor/ yoga instructor/ Reiki Practitioner, to homecare and most recently a career in kitchen & bath design and sales.  And, I’ve loved every job and hat worn in the last 50 odd years.

What advice do you have for other adults finishing their bachelor’s degrees?

To others out there contemplating getting their degree and waiting for the right time…the time is now and it’s never too late!  If you’re thinking of it, then it’s time.  How do you balance everything?  You just do.  It’s not as easy to do as it is to say, but it’s true.  When it matters, you find a way!  The professors are wonderfully supportive, the classmates are supportive and in the same boat and it’s not sinking…it’s sailing into beautiful unknown seas of discovery!  “Come on in, the water’s fine,” as the saying goes!

What has winning this scholarship meant to you?

The UWW Student Center page notified me of scholarships that could be applied for and I was fortunate in receiving a gracious and kind scholarship from the Bassi Family in memory of their daughter, Misty Catherine Bassi, and it is with much joy that I am pursuing my degree with this scholarship.  It has been a tremendous help for me financially and additionally, it is an inspiration to be fulfilling my dream of getting my degree with support from her family in her memory.  I can’t easily express the gratitude I feel for this generosity, but can only say when I have my degree and am in a position to return the favor to enable another student to fulfill their dreams of a degree it will be an honor to do so.

Please add anything else you want people to know about you, your family, and your story.

My family has always been my main focus and always will be!  However, nature, the outdoors and my two dogs are some of my favorite things.  To me there is nothing better than being on the summit of a mountain that I have climbed.  The connection with nature and the freedom of being in the wide open expanse of the world is exhilarating and humbling.  I’m a runner, I enjoy running and hope to do a marathon in the next year or two.  I’m a second degree black belt in Taekwondo and plan to return to my training for my third degree in the coming year. And, as much as I love to travel and explore the US, watching the seasons change on the river where I play with my dogs and marvel at nature is a fine place to be and call home.