By Melody Lehn, Extended University
Sherry Burke is a busy married mother of two boys who’s working toward a liberal studies degree at USC Sumter, and she attributes family support behind her decision to return to school.
“My family has been my greatest motivation in my pursuit towards my degree. Before I made the decision to return, we knew that this was going to be a journey and what a journey it has been,” she said. “No one knows what the future will bring and due to my husband’s disability, returning to school will allow me to have a stable foundation for my family in the future.”
She credits the flexibility afforded through the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program for helping her reach her dream. “The convenience of Palmetto College has made it easier to obtain my degree without uprooting my family,” Burke said.
Her academic endeavors are made a little easier as one of the recipients of this year’s Adult Student Scholarship Award. Students, like Burke, who are pursuing the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies or Bachelor of Arts in Organizational Leadership degrees are eligible to apply for the scholarship if they are at least 25 years old, a South Carolina resident, working towards an undergraduate degree and have achieved a grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
"This scholarship is especially important for those students who are trying to finish their degree while working and raising a family,” said Melissa Lowe, USC Extended University student services manager.
For the 2015-2016 academic year, Burke and 12 other students were awarded funds to offset the cost of tuition as they complete their degree requirements.
Burke graduated with both Associate of Arts and Associate of Science degrees in December 2014 from USC Sumter. She’s continuing to pursue the liberal studies degree at the Sumter campus, where she studies sociology and criminal justice with an English cognate. Upon graduation, she intends to pursue graduate studies at USC and hopes to one day become a college professor.
An active and engaged student on the Sumter campus, she served as both USC Sumter SGA vice president and vice president of the USC-Sumter Veterans. In the latter role, Burke organized a four-day student veteran trip to Washington D.C., where she had the honor of meeting U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in the West Wing of the White House where they discussed the future of the Education Reform Act.
Among many other activities and accomplishments, she has achieved academic excellence in her coursework and received multiple honors. Burke received the Gold Medallion for the 2015-2016 academic year and is a member of eight honor societies, including the Golden Key National Honor Society, Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society, and the Society for Collegiate Leadership and Achievement. Burke was most recently nominated for Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities for 2015-2016.
Burke’s accomplishments are impressive and her aspirations are an inspiration to others who are thinking about going back to school; however, she attributes much of her success to the support of faculty and staff at USC Sumter and USC Palmetto College. “There have been many individuals who have encouraged me throughout my journey. Lynwood Watts (associate dean of student affairs) and Keith Britton (director of admission services) at USC Sumter have always been there for me from the beginning,” she said.
“Professor Kerry McLoughlin (instructor of sociology) sparked my passion for sociology, Professor John Peek (instructor of criminal justice at USC Salkehatchie) peeked my curiosity in criminal justice, and my advisor and professor in philosophy at USC Sumter, Dr. Anthony Coyne, made me see the world in a different light,” Burke continued.
Other faculty have also been instrumental in cultivating Burke’s ability to, as she put it, “think outside-the-box” in her classes. She credits Dr. Shelley Jones (assistant professor of English at USC Extended University), Professor Patrick Saucier (instructor of sociology at USC Extended University), and Dr. Babette Protz (instructor of criminal justice at USC Lancaster) for challenging her and helping her see the world in new, different ways.
Burke singled out Dr. Ray McManus, associate professor of English at USC Sumter, for special praise.
“Dr. McManus has been a great mentor in all aspects. He has shown me how to see the bigger picture by using my imagination, listened to me when I needed to talk to someone, and given me advice to help me make choices I needed to make in my college career,” she said. “If it wasn’t for him, I probably would not be here. There have been times I wanted to quit, but sometimes you need others to lean on. Dr. Ray McManus has been my rock of reasoning.”