Consuella Harge isn't just beating the odds - she's beating all the odds.
The single mother of Corvair, 11 and Grace, 4 is a Senior pursuing a degree in mathematics with a concentration in actuarial science from UNC Charlotte. And she hasn't let a medical disability stop her from achieving her goals and showing her children that education is a top priority.
According to the numbers, Consuella's story should be virtually impossible: less than 3% of all mathematics degrees go to African American women in this country. Only 28% of single mothers in the U.S. graduated from college with a certificate or degree within six years in a 2009 study. The graduation rate for non-traditional students is only 39%. Only one-third of students with a disability who enroll in college graduate within eight years. And we don't need statistics to know that Consuella beat the odds when lupus and post-inflammatory fibrosis left her in a coma for 20 days, and she still didn't let it keep her down.
How did she do it? A hearty dose of strength and determination, fortified by programs designed to help people just like her.
One of those programs is ANSWER Scholarship, a SHARE Charlotte partner. The scholarship program is exclusively for local mothers who want to earn a college degree. Every ANSWER scholarship comes with access to a robust mentorship program - a key factor in the 80% graduation rate of ANSWER scholars, compared to the 39% graduation of non-traditional students.
"ANSWER's mentoring program provided me with resources, a sense of community, and lifelong friendships with women who can relate to my circumstances," says Consuella.
Another resource Consuella used to her advantage is Disability: IN, a national nonprofit that helps business drive performance by leveraging disability inclusion in the workplace, supply chain and marketplace.
Consuella applied for the Mentorship Exchange and Talent Accelerator programs offered by Disability: IN. She got accepted to both programs and even got invited to the Disability: IN Inclusion Awards, held this year in Las Vegas.
"It was one of the best experiences of my life," Consuella says of the five-day conference that included networking, consultation and interview practice with companies like Ernst & Young, Wells Fargo and KPMG.
The Technology Innovation Lab gave Consuella a chance to collaborate on a product designed to enhance the lives of people with and without disabilities. Consuella's team designed a Removable, Modular Organizational Bag complete with braille support. "The bag was inspired by my own need for a way to carry my portable oxygen tank, wallet, devices and other important documents," says Consuella.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the conference was the focus on everything that people with disabilities can achieve. "I learned that I am a person with a disability who is innovative, creative, has an inventive mindset, and has the ability to persevere," says Consuella, who plans on becoming an Actuary after graduation.
There's nothing easy about beating all the odds, but for Consuella, the rewards are worth it.
"The most rewarding thing about being a mom and student is knowing that one day my children will see my struggles, my challenges, my survival and they will be proud of what I have accomplished."
Odds are, they won't be the only ones inspired by her story.
ANSWER Scholarship is hoping to raise $10,000 for #GivingTuesdayCLT - enough to send two local mothers to college. To make a gift, visit answerscholarship.org or donate here.
Grace Kennedy is a Huntersville-based writer for nonprofits and small businesses. Learn more at gracekennedy.net.
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