University of Pennsylvania

Posted on November 1, 2010

Bread Upon the Waters Program

Penn’s Bread Upon the Waters program, named for the old Hebrew idiom about giving and the rewards that come from giving, is unique in its approach to serving Mature Students by offering free tuition for selected part-time students as a way of helping them earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2009, the Newcombe Foundation began its partnership with Penn by providing partial funding for three of their twenty-five Bread scholarships. The Newcombe Foundation celebrates Penn’s commitment to welcome and support nontraditional women students as they work to complete their degrees.

Among many other things, women returning to school need money. This is why Elin Danien started the Bread Upon the Waters Scholarship Program at Penn in 1986. Elin, who began her freshman year at the age of forty-six, would become very familiar with the challenges facing nontraditional students, especially older women, by the time she graduated seven years later. Today, she sees herself in many of the students who come through the program, which provides full scholarships to academically gifted women over the age of thirty who demonstrate financial need and want to complete an undergraduate degree through part-time study at Penn’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS). Once admitted to LPS and accepted as Bread Scholars, the scholarship supports them until they graduate, in whatever course of study they choose, providing full tuition for up to six courses each year.

University of Pennsylvania

At a recent Bread reception, these three graduates compared notes. From left: Valerie Hosendorf, who has been promoted twice at the Free Library of Philadelphia since she graduated cum laude; Sharon Sidorick, who graduated summa cum laude and recently earned a Ph.D. in history from Temple University; Paula Budnick, who was an assistant at Resources for Human Development when she started at Penn, is now an administrator. Paula could only manage one course each semester and graduated after thirteen years, having never missed a single class. On one blustery, snowy night, she was the only one to show up for class. Even the instructor stayed home!

The seventy-eight women who have gone through the program and the twenty-five now taking classes come from many different backgrounds, but their stories all echo their thirst for learning. One recent graduate, who went from an unhappy childhood in a home without books to an unhappy marriage, said of the scholarship, “It heals broken hearts. It grants a top-notch education to deserving women who will use their knowledge to better society. Bread feeds us and the community at the same time.” She is now a published, award-winning poet and teaches English, poetry, and the importance of setting goals to high school students in Philadelphia.

Several other graduates have gone into teaching, earning master’s degrees and certificates after their Bread experience. One has even created a school that serves children in the inner city from preschool to the 4th grade. Another former student, a paralegal, got a Penn degree thanks to Bread and went on to become a lawyer.

Each year LPS hosts an annual reception with scholarship donors, graduates, and current scholars. Bread scholars are part of each other’s lives; they meet regularly, share pizza, study together, and support one another through the wonderful and difficult times of pursuing a Penn degree. In addition to the formal Penn support systems, a wide range of mentoring opportunities are available to Bread scholars – from select advisory board members and former Bread scholars to LPS staff. A newsletter and Facebook page help Bread scholars support each other by creating a sense of family. As one of them said, “One word sums up for me the emotions felt when thinking of Bread–belonging. I belong to a group of women who support my endeavors, my dreams, and the road that got me here.”

Since many Bread scholars are the first in their families to attend college while they work full time, support families and struggle to pay the bills, the program has evolved to provide them with a variety of academic, career planning, and counseling services. For example, each scholar is assigned an academic advisor and can seek additional help from LPS student services specialists, who provide assistance with course registration, student record/transcript and billing questions, and identify campus resources to support them. LPS offers a variety of evening and Saturday classes to accommodate scholars who work. Free and confidential counseling services are available through the university.

In August 2008, LPS also began to offer an intensive daylong “boot camp” that exposes scholars to a variety of services to support their success. Part of the orientation takes place in a library computer lab where they are guided through the online services that are available to them as Penn students. The goal is to provide fast-track exposure to information technology prior to the start of classes–to alleviate what can potentially be a barrier to their academic achievement. Additionally, the program’s student support coordinator works as a direct contact person to all students in helping them navigate the launching of their university systems access. Through these efforts, LPS creates a community of learners that function as a cohort in order to address many of the issues that often contribute to adult student attrition, such as little money, social isolation, and stress and time management.

Like the passage of scripture from which the scholarship program is named, Bread Upon the Waters’ impact goes beyond the individual lives of the scholarship recipients. Elin Danien describes the impact of the program as “a never ending series of ripples, each touching the next, so that the cumulative effect becomes ever greater.” Bread women serve as examples of what can be accomplished with perseverance and when offered the opportunity to achieve great things. And we are now delighted to partner with the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation to continue improving the lives of so many women, which we have been doing for nearly 25 years.

The Newcombe Scholars this year exemplify the women who become Bread scholars.

University of Pennsylvania student Sharon Scully Stetson
Sharon Scully Stetson, an artist who works in various media, will earn her BFA in December 2010. Her experiences at Penn have been “transformative. I have been blessed with the tools and opportunities to grow and understand myself more fully. My life has been changed.”

University of Pennsylvania student Maura Collinsgru

Maura Collinsgru (shown here with her husband Bob) worked with the Parent Information Center of New Jersey to secure educational services for her son; she helped advocate for a more equitable and just interpretation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She hopes to use her Penn degree to further her work to bring full educational opportunities to all children.

University of Pennsylvania student Vicki Duncan

Vicki Duncan returned to Penn in 2007 as a BA candidate in LPS, after having originally begun her higher education in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1981. At that time she was the first person in her immediate family to attend college away from home, an experience that proved intimidating. Before returning to complete her degree, she single-handedly raised three daughters, now teenagers, and provided care for her elderly mother. Vicki is majoring in Social Sciences with a concentration in Urban Studies.

University of Pennsylvania student Elin Danien
And the founder? Elin Danien says, “I have more than a hundred daughters, and each one is a marvel!”

For more information about Penn’s Bread Upon the Waters Program, please visit their website.