This past decade, the Pacific Northwest has been a period of economic boom. While that growth translates into individual success for some, many Washingtonians are struggling with unemployment, escalating living costs, income disparities and other inequities that stand between them and the next step in their careers.
To help break down barriers to continuing education at the University of Washington and allow more people to build skills for today’s workforce, the UW Certificate Scholarship program was launched in 2017. This scholarship helps a limited number of low-income Washington residents by covering at least 80% of the course fees for select UW Professional & Continuing Education certificate programs.
“Our foundational belief at UW Continuum College is that everyone deserves the opportunity for education to thrive in our ever-changing world,” said Sandi Janusch, assistant vice provost of international & academic programs. “The scholarship was created to help those who couldn’t normally afford to return to school, gain in-demand skills and the chance to ignite their careers.”
In the first year, the program made scholarships available for 10 awardees in five popular certificate programs. Seeing an opportunity to impact the lives of local people, BECU and the Windermere Foundation partnered with the UW in 2018 to help expand the program.
This year, with COVID-19 layoffs affecting roughly 1 in 5 workers in the U.S., Continuum College has decided to prioritize scholarships for Washington state residents whose lives have been impacted by the pandemic. Through UW certificate programs, the scholarship recipients can prepare for in-demand jobs by building professional skills e and expertise.
This was the case for Laura Kirch and Tolulope Daramola, two scholarship awardees from the inaugural 2017 class. Kirch was trying to re-enter the workforce after dedicating 10 years to caring for her three kids and elderly parents. She needed to update her skillset and offset the long gap in her resume.
“The Project Management Certificate added another credential to my resume,” said Kirch, “and it definitely built my confidence because the knowledge was so fresh.”
Similarly, as a recent immigrant building a new life in the U.S., Daramola found he needed to gain financial acumen to grow and create more opportunities for his burgeoning environmental construction business.
“When I was looking into the program, I knew I didn’t have the resources,” he said. “Every profit that was coming into the business I was putting back into the company. I wouldn’t have been able to do the program at that time if it wasn’t for the scholarship.”
Today they’re putting the skills from their certificate programs to work. Daramola found the confidence to take on a watershed project with the Army Corps of Engineers and King County as well as doing creek work and mitigation with logs in Georgetown.
“With the certificate program, I’ve noticed that all that experience has really given me the confidence to take on much bigger technical projects. I feel like I’ve already grown past where I was and just continue to grow,” Daramola said. “What I’ve been able to do is plan ahead so if there’s an economic meltdown next week, we’ll have everything paid off. That planning has been really huge during the pandemic.”
Now a project manager at Redfin, Kirch told us that “I work with a set of real estate agents, and we help get homes prepped and ready for market. I'm juggling 12 different deals where I'm managing timelines and hiring different vendors to do work, and it's all project management. So, taking the course ended up serving me well.”
With many people facing even greater barriers to achieving economic security in the year ahead, UW Continuum College intends to expand the scholarship program by offering scholarships for many more UW Professional & Continuing Education certificate programs in 2021.
“We hope to work more closely with local employers and community members on funding, so that we can help local people get the skills they need to build new careers,” said Janusch.
Want to help support continuing education at the UW? You can help open the door to opportunities for more local people in need by donating to the UW Certificate Scholarship Fund.