UMass Sesquicentennial

UWW student spotlight: Melissa Paige

Date: 
08/13/2013

Meet Melissa Paige, a UMass Amherst UWW student from Orange, MA and winner of a UWW Scholarship.  On top of schoolwork, 34 year old Melissa balances life as a full-time Personal Care Attendant for her brother and a full-time, single mother.  She shared a little about her busy life with us, including how she manages her schedule, and what winning this scholarship has meant to her.  Her advisor: Connie Griffin.  Her concentration: Human Services.

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

I suffer from various disabilities that have hindered my school career over the years, resulting in medical withdrawals when things get too bad. Each time when things look up for me, I have returned to college to work toward my goal of finishing my Bachelor’s degree in Health and Human Services with a focus on disabilities.

Tell us about your current job.

I work full time as a Personal Care Attendant, caring for my brother, Alan who has cerebral palsy, and am a single mother to an 11 year old daughter, Emilee whom I homeschool due to her learning disabilities.

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

I chose to attend the University Without Walls at UMASS because it enables me to continue to work full time, homeschool my daughter, and take classes from home.

How do you balance work, school, and family?

My life is pretty busy, so I can only manage to take two classes at a time. I have a set work schedule, which helps me find time to work on my schooling. During the school year, I sometimes find the time to work on my schoolwork while my daughter is working independently on her own schoolwork. During busy weeks I find the time for schoolwork at night after work, or on the weekends when I am off from work.

What does winning this scholarship mean to you?

I struggle financially being a single parent, and was very worried when I learned that the federal grants would not cover my full summer tuition. I was ecstatic to learn that I was one of the recipients for a UWW Scholarship, as it would reduce my school bill in half; it was such a relief! I am so grateful for the help in paying off my tuition fees!

What is the best part about being a UWW student for you? 

The best part of UWW for me is getting to be there for my daughter, while continuing my education.

What’s been your favorite class at UMass Amherst? 

My favorite class at the University has been Health Care for All. I feel like I learned SO much about healthcare in the United States, which will greatly help me in my career as an advocate for people with disabilities, although I’m really enjoying my two classes that I am currently enrolled in: Abnormal Psychology and Medical Ethics.

What are your future plans professionally and personally? 

I’d love to work as a disabilities advocate, making sure that people with disabilities get the services that they need and deserve, including augmentative communication devices, therapies, help finding and holding a job, suitable housing, appropriate adaptations, healthcare, etc.

If you’ve written a prior learning portfolio, what’s been the best part of that process for you? 

The best part about writing my portfolio was having a clear-cut plan for my degree at the end. It lets me see which classes I have already taken, and plan for which classes will best suit my degree and concentration.

What is your advice do you have for other students finishing their degrees?

My advice to other students is to be persistent; persistence and hard work always pay off in the end. Here I am at age 34, finally about to finish my bachelor’s degree (one class left), after trying for years, and having to medically withdraw so many times; I can almost see the finish line!

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

A couple of years ago, I was forced to see the caretaker situation from a different angle. I’ve always been the caretaker, working as a nursing assistant, home health aide and personal care attendant, never the one who needed to be cared for. But in late January of 2011, while driving my brother to an appointment, we were hit head on by a car driving in the opposite direction. My life skidded to a halt (no pun intended). After getting my brother (who miraculously was fine) to safety outside of my mangled, smoking car, I realized that I was badly injured and started to collapse. I had broken both my knees and injured my back, neck, chest and leg. I had just finished my Associate’s degree the month before, and was planning to begin UMass in the fall. I ended up out of work for more than six months following two surgeries to repair one of my two badly broken knees. I spent more than a week in the hospital and a couple of weeks in rehabilitation where I learned how to transfer myself from bed to wheelchair, etc. and how to walk (with a walker). I then recovered at my mother’s house for a few months. I had to learn to let go of any privacy, as I needed help with everything, from toileting to showering, dressing, etc. It was hard to let people help me since I’ve always been such an independent hardworking woman. This experience has made me a better person, and better able to understand the lives of people with disabilities, as I now struggle with pain and mobility on a daily basis. Luckily, I was as recovered as I was going to be, back to work, and ready to begin my time at UMass by the fall!

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