Donna Walter

"Up until that point, I had people pushing me. They could see my potential, but I couldn’t see it myself yet. To have someone believe in me enough to pick me… it changed my whole way of thinking about myself. That was the catalyst. It was more than just the money they gave me, it was a lot of self-esteem, a notion that, ‘I have something to offer.’”
Donna Walter
Donna Walter

Donna Walter took a different road to her bachelor’s degree. Married at eighteen and a mother by twenty, Donna was on track to fulfill her first priority: to raise her family. She became involved with the Parent Teacher Association at her children’s school and was soon made its president. Her talents for organizing projects and leading groups of people caught the eye of the school’s principal, Pat, who became her mentor and encouraged her to return to school. “She was so persistent,” Donna remembers. “She went and bought a suitcase, and said, ‘Here’s your suitcase, because I’m going to get you working and you’re going to go to school.’”

Pat directed Donna toward the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, where she began work first as an interviewer, then in data management. After about five years, Donna decided that she was ready to go back to school: she enrolled at U-M Dearborn for six credits per semester. Realizing that financing her education put a strain on her family, Donna decided to follow up on a friend’s suggestion to contact CEW.

“Lo and behold! I got a scholarship,” she recalls. “It was major for me. Major. Up until that point, I had people pushing me. They could see my potential, but I couldn’t see it myself yet. To have someone believe in me enough to pick me… it changed my whole way of thinking about myself. That was the catalyst. It was more than just the money they gave me, it was a lot of self-esteem, a notion that, ‘I have something to offer.’”

Donna found that going back to school challenged her to think in new ways and expand her horizons. “What I think was the most interesting thing about college for me as an older student was that I was pretty set in my box. I knew how I thought about things, and the way I was going to do things. To go back to college, I really had to step outside of that box and learn. It was enlightening, and I thought it was terribly exciting. I think about everything differently now: I’m a lot more open-minded.”

Donna is grateful for the mentoring and support she received from Pat, her professors at U-M Dearborn, and CEW. “It was such a big deal to me, that people believed in me and they gave me that shot. It gave me a boost, made me believe in myself, that I must have something to offer. It was a start, and I appreciate it a lot.” Donna continues to work at the U-M Institute for Social Research, now with a bachelor’s degree with concentrations in psychology, sociology and statistics.