Scholarship program empowers nontraditional students

TWU’s 2014-2015 recipients of Empowering Women as Leaders (EWL) scholarships.

TWU’s 2014-2015 recipients of Empowering Women as Leaders (EWL) scholarships.


The path to college isn’t always direct from high school. Sometimes, there are a few more steps along the way. 

For Yamasheta Ray of Fort Worth, working in business and being an entrepreneur several times over the years came first. She also became a mother and attended trade school for court reporting.

“It was the right fit for me,” said Ray of her decision to transfer to Texas Woman’s University in 2014 after attending online courses at a Houston community college.

Now a junior working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration, she looks forward to graduation and applying to law school after her 17-year-old daughter goes off to college the more traditional way.

Thankfully, Ray isn’t alone in her educational journey. She is one of six new recipients of scholarships from Empowering Women as Leaders (EWL), a nonprofit dedicated to supporting women in achieving success through education, mentoring and networking.

EWL has an exclusive partnership with TWU to bestow the $1,500 scholarships to nontraditional students attending the Denton campus. In addition to scholarship money – renewable annually – each STAR Scholarship recipient is paired with a mentor who provides counsel during college and at least two years after graduation.

Founder Carolyn Bondy said she and other EWL members provide opportunities for women to reinvent their lives. A self-described late bloomer, Bondy went to college at 25 and it took her seven years to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in math and computer science from Lamar University.

“Many of the women we support are in financial need and typically first-generation college,” said Bondy, who is a vice president at Intergraph. “So, we are changing the lives of the women we support.”

Nearly 60 TWU students have received the scholarships since 2006; that’s more than $100,000 total. In all cases, the women are over age 23 and completing their first undergraduate degrees; each student must maintain a 3.2 GPA.

“The women can be in their first semesters of college, or they can be in their junior and senior years,” said Jessica Burchfield, assistant director of Commuter & Distance Education Student Services. “Each student submits her application, and then EWL works with us during the scholarship process.

“The best part of this program is that it’s not inhibitive when it comes to majors; typically, the students major in interdisciplinary studies, family studies, social work and various science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs.”

EWL is working with TWU to establish a chapter and a scholarship in Houston by 2017, Bondy said.

EWL’s scholarship helped senior Tamiel Turley of Little Elm continue her biology studies and earn an internship last summer at Mayo Clinic’s campus in Jacksonville, Fla.

“I worked in a cancer-biology lab, and we worked on developing drug therapies for renal cancer. I tested about 200 compounds to see if they were effective…, and I actually found 40 of them; it was pretty exciting.”

The experience inspired Turley, married and a mother of four, to go forward with plans to earn a doctorate in biomedical science so she can do more research. She will graduate from TWU in May and is applying to graduate programs at Mayo, the University of Texas at Austin, Rice University in Houston and The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Turley said she’s come a long way since dropping out of high school 20 years ago and earning a GED diploma. A STAR since 2013, Turley welcomes EWL’s guidance and chats with her mentor once a month or so; she and other STAR recipients also attend EWL’s various networking events.

“I like to think of them as my cheerleaders and my family,” she said. “You have a specific mentor, who is excellent and who you can call on to ask questions; you also have a group of women and men – there are men in the organization – who are willing to help you as you go through your journey.”

Ray hasn’t met her EWL mentor yet.

“The mentoring aspect is near and dear to my heart because I enjoy mentoring others, and I believe that mentorship is a vital part to anyone’s success,” she said. 

TWU alumna Sheryl Jackson sought mentors when she became a STAR in 2007. She returned to college after her marriage and 17-year relationship ended and she was raising three children as a single mother. Working with an executive mentor helped Jackson navigate a very complex work environment during the economic downturn in 2008 through 2010.

“My mentor coached me on practical things that would allow my transition to be successful,” said Jackson, who graduated in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in business and currently works in the Dallas sales organization for David Weekley Homes. “Sometimes it was making recommendations of books that I needed to read, and sometimes it was a matter of my mentor sharing some of her own struggles in her career and how she navigated them successfully.”

Jackson now serves on EWL’s board of directors. She chairs EWL’s governance committee and serves on the development committee.

“As (a STAR), you are developing your personal and professional brand simultaneously,” Jackson said. “You are laying the framework for how successful you are going to be later, and EWL helps build that framework.”

Online applications for next year’s STAR Scholarship will be available in August, Burchfield said. For more information, go to

Media Contact

Stephanie Patrick
Contributor to TWU News

Page last updated 2:19 PM, February 4, 2021