By Abbey Nickel
Janelle Wiser’s dream has always been to attend the University of Findlay and to follow the path of becoming a veterinarian. But not long after starting her education, challenges at home put that dream in jeopardy.
“I remember her smiling the entire way there, and the entire way home when we first visited Findlay. This is her dream. This has always been her dream,” said Janelle’s mother, Kathy.
Wiser, a junior animal science major, enrolled at the University and began her coursework, she and her mother were struggling to fund the remaining balance of her tuition bill after the available financial aid was applied to her account.
After applying for several additional scholarships with no luck, Wiser says she wanted to give up.
But one day as her mother was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room – a place she has become all too familiar with — she happened to catch a glimpse of the Katie show, a talk show hosted by Katie Couric.
Couric was advertising a scholarship from Scholarship America, Inc., called the Dream Award. The scholarship is a renewable scholarship designed for financially needy students who have overcome challenges and have already started their college education.
Kathy Wiser called her after seeing the advertisement and encouraged her to apply.
“I was hesitant at first, because I was so tired of applying. But she just kept saying ‘Janelle, you need to apply. Just try it,’” said Wiser.
And with that encouragement, Wiser busied herself with the application and the materials that had to be included, which included an essay that illustrates the student’s need for financial aid and the obstacles they’ve overcome.
When Wiser received a message a couple of months later saying she was a semifinalist for the scholarship, emotions were running high for both her and her mother. For Wiser, who lives in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, learning that she would soon be in New York and on live television was overwhelming but exciting at the same time.
After flying out to New York City at the end of May, Wiser along with the other eleven finalists found out on live television that all of them were winners and would be receiving a scholarship. For Wiser and her family, it was the answer that they needed for her to stay in school to finish her degree.
Kathy Wiser, who was sitting in the audience during the announcement, said that it was a moment she will never forget.
“It was like someone was saying “hey, you’ve gone through enough struggle, and it’s time to take a load off of your back,” said Kathy Wiser.
For her, it really was a load off of her back.
Kathy Wiser, who has Multiple Sclerosis and was also diagnosed with cervical and breast cancer as well as Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has difficulty walking as a result of her health issues.
But now, she is scheduling to have major surgery on her spine that will allow her to walk more comfortably, something that she couldn’t do previously because she couldn’t afford to take the time off work.
But in addition to Kathy Wiser’s health, another obstacle presented itself for her and her family in 2007. Janelle’s older sister and her sister’s finance were in car accident that seriously injured her sister and killed her finance.
As a result, Kathy Wiser, who is a single parent, was left alone to take care of her two children and a young granddaughter. The extent of the injuries Wiser’s sister suffered left her disabled and unable to live on her own.
“I know my mom did her best, but she’s a single parent and had to reteach my sister everything. She didn’t even know how to brush her teeth,” said Wiser.
Because of the accident, Kathy Wiser’s finances and credit scores suffered, making it difficult to quality for additional student loans to cover the rest of Wiser’s tuition. According to Wiser, the Trustee’s Scholarship and several unsubsidized and subsidized loans helped pay for a large amount of her tuition – but there was still more to be covered.
While Wiser’s sister was learning how to successfully walk, talk, and eat again – Wiser says she needed an outlet for the emotions and stress she carried during that period of her life. With that in mind, Kathy found Janelle the outlet that she needed – an abused horse that Wiser could take care of and bring back to health.
“Ever since she was little, Janelle was never about Barbies or anything like that. She was always about animals. She has known from the very beginning that she was meant to take care of animals, and she did exactly that with this horse,” Kathy Wiser said.
But according to Wiser, her journey with her horse, Cody, also had its fair share of challenges.
Cody, who is used for lessons for children with disabilities, was diagnosed with a form of eye cancer in 2010 that can easily spread to the brain without surgery.
Wiser scheduled to have Cody euthanized, because she knew that he would suffer without the surgery, and she knew she couldn’t afford the surgery after her sister’s accident.
On the day Wiser– along with a young boy that rode Cody in lessons – arrived to say their final goodbyes to Cody, Wiser says that between the tears and memories shared, the veterinarian who arrived to put Cody to sleep decided at the last minute to spare Wiser more heartache. She was determined to find a way to keep Cody alive – and she did.
The veterinarian found a surgeon who was willing to front Janelle and her family the money to pay for the surgery to remove the cancer, and give Cody a second chance at life.
Today, Cody is happy and healthy, and Wiser says that experience is what helped solidify her dream to becoming a veterinarian.
“My main goal in the pitch for the scholarship was to be able to return that favor. I want to make a different in the life of both of an animal and a person. I want to change someone’s life like she changed my mind. That’s just something you can’t repay. I can thank that vet a million times, but that’s not enough. I need to pay it forward,” she said.
Sarah Fedirka, professor of English at UF, wrote Janelle a letter of recommendation for the scholarship.
Fedirka said it was easy to recommend Janelle for the scholarship based on her performance in her classroom – but she wasn’t fully aware of Janelle’s story and what she included in her application essay.
“Hearing her story and what she’s been through made it that much more meaningful for me when I found out she got it. I was home and watched part of the show live as it happened, and I was just incredibly happy for her. I called my mom and she was crying while she was watching it. Our whole family was so happy for her,” Fedirka said.
After receiving the scholarship, Wiser who worked four jobs last school year to help her mother afford her school payments, says that a huge burden has been lifted off of both her and her mother.
“My mom was literally killing herself to put me through school, and that gave me so much guilt. That guilt is gone now,” she said.
Both Janelle and her mother say that the University has played a big role in helping Wiser find the financial aid she needs in addition to the Dream Award.
“I just feel so blessed that she’s there. She’s in good hands. Findlay has taken good care of my girl, and they will continue to do that. I know they will,” said Kathy Wiser.
Kathy Wiser said that while her disease is definitely burdensome– she’s thankful that she was sitting there in that doctor’s office that day for that routine appointment.
“It was like God wanted me to see it,” said Kathy Wiser. “And I’m so glad that I did.”