The road less taken

Scholarship for nontraditional students honors former student adviser

Heather Coleman might be the perfect student to receive the inaugural Harriett Hurt scholarship.

Coleman, 49, is working on a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies with concentrations in sociology and psychology, with plans to graduate in 2020, the same year her youngest child will finish high school.

“The classes have helped me understand people in a way I had never understood them before,” she says. “My interest is where conservative religions and women intersect. I want to try to help women at that intersection.”

Years ago, Coleman had planned a career in a nursing specialty, but life got in the way and she decided to return to school after her three children were mostly grown.

“I transferred deliberately to Palmetto College to protect my education from life circumstances,” says Coleman, who has worked the past 10 years as a legal assistant.

Coleman says after she completes her degree, she would like to do something to help women who want to grow personally. That may be as a counselor, a sociological researcher or even as an adult education advocate.

“I will decide on a path while I finish my undergraduate degree, then go to graduate school,” she says.

Nearly 30 years ago, Harriett Hurt took a similar path as Coleman, when, at age 47, she applied to the University of South Carolina as a nontraditional undergraduate student. Hurt had been through a personal tragedy and had told a friend that she needed to do something with her life that mattered.

I transferred deliberately to Palmetto College to protect my education from life circumstances.

Heather Coleman, inaugural recipient of the Harriett Hurt scholarship, which is awarded to an adult continuing education student who is a resident of South Carolina

Hurt was, by all accounts, an excellent student and was engaged in many activities on campus — fully embracing the college experience. That’s when she met Sally Boyd, whose office included Adult Student Services and who told Hurt that if she went to graduate school, she would have a job in Boyd’s office. After Hurt completed graduate school, her assistantship became a full-time job and she became the best friend adult students had at Carolina.

“Harriett made such a difference for so many people,” says Boyd, who retired in 2013 as assistant vice provost of extended university after more than 40 years in the university system. “There are so many stories of ‘I never would have had the guts to try this without Harriett.’”

Hurt died unexpectedly in 2013, leaving her colleagues and those she helped devastated.

“When I came to USC, I was afraid and nervous and thought I was too old to return to college,” Earnestine Walker Culler says. “Ms. Hurt talked with me as an adviser and shared her story with me. I was working at the time, but she reassured me that I could do it and said I would not be sorry when I graduated. ‘And you will graduate!’ she told me, with that wonderful smile on her face.

“I did not have a chance to thank her for her encouragement and patience that she showed me when I constantly returned to her office for advice and assistance.”

Boyd says she started the Harriett Hurt Endowed Scholarship Fund for Nontraditional Students to continue both Hurt’s legacy and her own. Students older than 25 in either the Bachelor of Organizational Leadership or Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies program in Palmetto College are eligible. Hurt was adviser to those students.

“A scholarship named for Harriett would be the best way to memorialize the kind of work I was involved in at USC — providing opportunities and access for those students who are not on the typical path,” Boyd says.

Coleman never met Hurt, but she says she appreciates all that Hurt accomplished, and she is trying to embrace her college experience like Hurt did, including being inducted into the adult honor society Alpha Sigma Lambda.

“I love school,” she says. “And I am so grateful for the scholarship and the opportunity to pursue my education.”

Learn more

Learn how you can help support nontraditional students through the Harriett Hurt Endowed Scholarship Fund.

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