News Release

Published on Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Losing her husband in a tragic car accident was devastating for Kari Baumel, of Mindoro, Wis. But, she knew she couldn’t let her kids down. She needed to pick herself up and figure out how to move forward and support her family.

Going back to school seemed like the best option, and the healthcare field offered a stable future. In 2009, Baumel enrolled at Western Technical College first in the Nursing program, but ultimately choosing the Occupational Therapy Assistant program. That decision would prove to be both challenging and rewarding.

In addition to rigorous classwork, students in the OTA program are required to perform field work in a professional environment. Clinical sites for the OTA program can be anywhere in Western’s 11-county district. Baumel was placed at three different sites – first a mental health facility in Madison, then a rehabilitation center in Sparta, and finally in a small hospital in Whitehall – all a significant commute from her home in Mindoro.

“Being a widow with two children and working really hard to try to make something of my life to help myself and my children has been very difficult at times,” admits Baumel. “I have done my best to juggle things around and make things work, but toward the end of my last semester of field work, things got to the point where there was no juggling to happen. I felt like I was losing a battle that I had tried so hard to accomplish.”

That’s when she turned to Western’s counseling services for help.

“I met with counselor Lori Mohring and told her about my situation,” said Baumel. “She advised that I write an application letter to Scholarship America Dreamkeepers.”

Dreamkeepers®, a national program administered by Scholarship America is new to Western. The program provides students in need with money to address unexpected expenses, which could cause these students to drop out. Through a partnership with Scholarship America, a $1.9 million grant was awarded to the 16 colleges within the Wisconsin Technical College System by the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation (Great Lakes) as part of its philanthropic Community Investments program. Each college received up to $140,000, based on enrollment.

The funding is available to students who are eligible for Federal Pell Grants—those who have a significant demonstrated financial need. Through the program, Pell-eligible students can apply to receive small grants averaging around $200 to cover urgent, unforeseen expenses. Great Lakes' goal is to help these students remain in, and complete, college and realize the many benefits completion brings to students and their families. The three-year initiative is also intended to determine the effectiveness of emergency grant assistance on student retention and graduation.

"We know that any unexpected cost—whether it's a bill for car repair, daycare, or dental work—can loom large for disadvantaged students. Great Lakes is therefore pleased to provide this support," said Amy Kerwin, chief educational opportunities officer at Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation. "Our hope is to remove obstacles and help more students stay in school and graduate."

To date, Western has awarded 32 grants through the program, amounting to over $23,000. Baumel received funding to cover gas for her commute, groceries, and utility bills. Although the overall amount was less than $600, those unexpected costs could have prevented her from finishing her program.

“The day my husband died, I thought I died with him. I have struggled many years with his death, but I have always told myself that I can’t let my kids down,” said Baumel. “Now with the wonderful help I received from Dreamkeepers, I can proudly say that I graduated!”

Baumel completed her program in May, and was offered a position as a full-time Occupational Therapy Assistant at her last field work site.

“I don’t know what I would have done without the help of Dreamkeepers and Lori Mohring,” said Baumel. “I can honestly say that there are great programs out there for people, and companies like Great Lakes that really do care and make a difference in people’s lives.”