Rachel Banaszewski never planned to attend a university. Growing up in a difficult home environment, she struggled just to survive in school let alone succeed academically.
At age 16, the state removed her from her home and she moved in with the family of a close friend.
After high school, Rachel managed to work her way through school, obtaining an associate degree from the local college. Further education, however, meant a four-year institution and more money than she could afford.
This was the end of the road. Without an outstanding high school record, Rachel didn't qualify for academic scholarships.
It was then that she heard about the Heber J. Grant Program at BYU-Idaho, which awards scholarships to those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and show they have taken steps to overcome some of their obstacles.
"I read about the description," said Rachel, "and thought, 'A scholarship just for me."' Although she found it hard to tell her story in a short essay, she applied and was soon awarded funds to attend the Church school.
Soon after she arrived on campus, however, Rachel found the program's goal wasn't simply to fund her education, but to push her out of her comfort zone and mold her into a capable leader, empowering her with the mentality, testimony and skills she would need to overcome future obstacles.
The Heber J. Grant Program was inspired by the life of President Grant who as a boy was raised in a single-parent home and overcame insurmountable obstacles to become a great Church leader. It evolved from a mere scholarship in the fall of 2005 to a student-led organization of over 1,800 participants. Behind it is the idea that there is power not only in giving aid to students' education, but also in allowing them to give back and develop leadership skills to overcome their disadvantages.
The program's three guiding principles are self-reliance, stewardship and replenishment.
As soon as students join the program they serve in a variety of capacities from ambassadors to application evaluators to instructors and mentors for incoming scholars.
Ambassadors reach out off-campus through presentations in wards and stakes, seeking those who have the desire for higher education but feel there is no hope.
Angel Viveros is a recent BYU-Idaho graduate from Puebla, Mexico. He worked as an instructor for the Life Skills Course, which is part of the program's curriculum and teaches practical application of the three guiding principles.
Speaking of self-reliance, Angel said the Life Skills Course teaches that people "have the power to choose. We have the power to act and being self-reliant is making things happen for ourselves."
He said important skills like time management, budgeting, goal setting and study skills are taught alongside gospel principles, like the importance of becoming Christ-reliant in order to be truly self-reliant.
April Spaulding is the program coordinator and the only full-time employee involved. She said it's what students are doing with the spiritual principles they learn that is really making the difference.
"I think the word 'transformation' is truly what happens," said Sister Spaulding. "These students begin at whatever level of spiritual understanding they have and constantly are working at it through leadership opportunities and through training that we have and continue to transform and evolve into this person that truly understands the Atonement."
Two years after first starting the program, Rachel has seen that transformation as she has worked in various roles, including application evaluator and managing director.
"I'm so grateful that at a young age I've been able to learn more about the Atonement because I've felt the impact of it in my life," she said. "I know that it can help others regardless of the situation they're in."
She will now be graduating with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Speaking of her new field of work, she said, "I want to use the leadership skills that I've learned here and that have been strengthened here to serve to really help people to grow."
For more information about the Heber J. Grant Scholarship Program visit: www.byui.edu/heberjgrant/
Heber J. Grant Scholars
Come from single-parent homes: 63.4%
Face obstacles regarding their participation in the Church: 52.9%
Will be first-generation college graduates: 58.3%
Come from families earning less than $25,000 annually: 48.8%
Come from families earning less than $35,000 annually: 71.3%
Scholars are from 48 states and 35 countries
E-mail to: [email protected]