ALA member thankful for second chance at college

Posted On: Monday, 22 April 2024

The Non-Traditional Student Scholarship helps those who are part of The American Legion Family, a veteran, or spouse of an active-duty servicemember or veteran pursue a college degree later in life or allow them to pick up where they left off when their studies were interrupted.
Valerie Wagner, Department of Minnesota, is a 2023 Non-Traditional Student Scholarship recipient. 
Did you attend college directly after graduating high school?  
After high school, I went to South Dakota State University to obtain my bachelor’s degree in nursing. My desire to care for individuals, families, and communities drove my passion for a career in nursing. I was determined to finish my degree in four years and sacrificed much by taking summer classes. Technology was in its infancy, and there were no online courses. Yet, I committed so much time commuting three hours daily and studying to stay close to my family. 
Why did you go back to school for an advanced degree? 
I have always desired to enhance my education and obtain a master's degree in nursing. Twenty-one years ago, I was about to enroll in classes for a nurse practitioner master’s degree in nursing; however, I still needed to continue to work full time for financial reasons. Once I learned of my fourth pregnancy, I knew I had to postpone my education for the family’s needs. Now, we are empty nesters, and I felt that the time was right for me to further my education.
Your college major is nursing education. What inspired that career choice? 
My professor from SDSU during my bachelor’s degree was Becky Maurer. Professor Maurer was thoughtful, supportive, and caring. During my senior year, she guided me always to seek more education, and that education is something nobody can take away. We kept in touch after college, and she consistently praises my efforts to improve my clients’ lives. 
How did you find out about the ALA’s Non-Traditional Student Scholarship? 
I knew about it when my daughter, Sierra, was starting college. She received this award in 2015 because of the delay in starting college after her high school graduation because of her basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in the Army. As I started my return to college, I knew applying for this scholarship was the perfect fit.
What does it mean to you that you both received this scholarship? 
It’s extraordinary that both my daughter and I received the ALA Non-Traditional Student Scholarship. It means we prioritize our education with hard work and determination. I have always emphasized education by telling her nobody can take it away. I am so proud of my daughter. She is a fantastic person with grit and integrity.  

With so many scholarships focused on high school-aged students, how does this one stand out?  
I love that ALA invests in its members and provides opportunities for self-improvement through education. It means so much that all members of all ages and backgrounds can work toward bettering themselves, which improves the communities they live in and serve. 

Do you have any advice for other non-traditional students when it comes to applying for this scholarship? 
We are our source of self-doubt. The six inches between your ears can decide if you take the steps toward your education or goals. Shut off the doubt and the negative thoughts. Ask the questions, do the research, and take the steps necessary to succeed in starting your future through education. Apply for all eligible scholarships, and do not compare yourself to others. 
5 strategies to be successful in college as an adult
Currently, 1 in 10 college students is age 40 or older. By 2027, 3.3 million students will fall within this age group. Here are five strategies that can help you thrive as a non-traditional college student:

Strategy 1: Apply where your experience and education are considered for admission.
Strategy 2: Reduce financial stress.
Strategy 3: Manage your time and workload.
Strategy 4: Find support and resources.
Strategy 5: Don’t forget to enjoy life.
Make a list of your most important personal and professional responsibilities and plan your schoolwork accordingly.
Source: Franklin University,

ALA Mission

In the spirit of Service, Not Self, the mission of the American Legion Auxiliary is to support The American Legion and to honor the sacrifice of those who serve by enhancing the lives of our veterans, military, and their families, both at home and abroad. For God and Country, we advocate for veterans, educate our citizens, mentor youth, and promote patriotism, good citizenship, peace and security.