When she returned to college in her 40s, Schenectady resident Jennifer Malave knew she’d have a lot to juggle.
After working for a ticketing broker for years, the Bronx native was looking for a change and, with encouragement from her niece, moved up to Schenectady in 2019 and became a full-time student at SUNY Schenectady. She was also working two part-time jobs to cover the cost of school and living expenses.
On top of that, the pandemic broke out the following semester and she had to create a home office, an unexpected expense, and try to remain connected to a community she had only just moved to.
“I went virtual and I threw myself more into the school and more into the community because I figured that was the only way you’re gonna get any socialization. And being in a town where if you’re new, you don’t know anyone that’s important,” Malave said.
She joined the student government association and got involved in committees and was eventually elected president. She also worked with the college’s mentorship program, co-hosted the college’s first podcast, made the President’s list each semester and was awarded the SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Student Excellence.
That was all possible thanks to a scholarship from the Women’s Fund of the Capital Region, which Malave received in 2020 and 2021.
“I was able to quit one of the jobs,” Malave said. “Just being able to not have one of those jobs helped me achieve all this. I honestly feel like I wouldn’t have been able to do it without their help.”
The fund supplies non-traditional students at SUNY Schenectady and Hudson Valley Community College with scholarships that cover not only the cost of tuition but other expenses as well.
It began in 2006 and is under the umbrella of the Women’s Employment Resource Center, which provides workforce development services to women in the Capital Region. In the early years, the Women’s Fund granted money to other organizations that were helping women and girls locally.
“Then in 2010, we decided to really sharpen our initiative, and donate the money ourselves. And we thought what was really needed is to provide scholarships, impactful scholarships, not just a small amount of money, but amounts that could really change lives of the women that we were providing the scholarships to,” said Paula Marshman, chair of the fund.
That was under the leadership of Susan Haigh Houpt and, since then, the Women’s Fund has funded 100 women with scholarships and emergency funding so their education was not side-tracked. Almost $500,000 has been provided for direct educational needs at the schools the group partners with, including SUNY Schenectady and Hudson Valley.
“We want a world where all women can have the means to provide for themselves, no matter what kind of situation they find themselves in,” Marshman said.
Unlike many other scholarships, theirs isn’t mostly dependent on a student’s grade-point average.
“They don’t have to have a terrific GPA because we know they’re balancing a myriad of other things in their lives, like children, households and perhaps a job, as well as going to school,” Marshman said.
Students have to maintain a 2.5 GPA, be either full-time or part-time students, demonstrate financial need and be 25 years or older, along with a few other criteria.
“We also targeted that last year of college. So we were sure they would graduate and that would give them the impetus to get a job that would help be sustainable for them and their families,” Marshman said.
Beyond scholarships, the Women’s Fund also supplies emergency funding for women at both local community colleges to help with everything from car repairs to down payments for apartments. During the pandemic, some of the funding went toward paying the electricity bills of some students.
“They usually fall into the realm of something that was just unexpected and unforeseen that could impact somebody’s ability to finish college,” Marshman said.
The Women’s Fund is overseen by a small group of around a dozen volunteers.
“I always say we’re small but mighty. Everybody finds their lane and they just work like crazy to get done what we need to get done,” Marshman said.
They also enjoy meeting women, like Malave, whose lives have been impacted by the scholarship funds.
“We love to have opportunities to meet our scholars at different events, whether it’s scholarship receptions or sometimes they set up one-on-ones with us, because it’s helpful to share our stories as well as hear their stories,” Marshman said.
Malave graduated from SUNY Schenectady with an associate’s degree in science and human services. She’s working toward her bachelor’s degree, studying political science at UAlbany.
“I felt like, doing social work, you help but you help on such a small scale. It really comes down to the laws and the policies that we enact that really make the ultimate difference in people’s lives,” Malave said.
She’s already been involved with several local campaigns and has hopes of running for Schenectady City Council.
“I’m one of those people that believes in leading by example and being the change that you want to see in your community,” Malave said.
For more information, visit womensfundcr.org.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: Email Newsletter, News, Schenectady, Schenectady County