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Staying on track

Posted 9 a.m. Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Support from family, friends and UWL Foundation scholarships helped Emily Schneider continue her education amid health challenges.

UWL Foundation scholarships help Schneider triumph amid health challenges

Having a strong support system while transitioning from high school to college is vital. For Emily Schneider, the support she received from family, friends and UWL Foundation scholarships got her through the most challenging time in her life. 

Schneider, now a senior majoring in exercise sport science on the pre-physician assistant track, was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2021, right before entering her freshman year at UWL. 

“My college experience isn’t what I imagined for myself,” Schneider says. “I was unable to attend my UWL courses in person during the fall semester of my freshman year. Although my oncologist advised me to take it easy, I enrolled as a full-time online student.” 

At the beginning of her freshman year, Schneider was awarded a $10,000, four-year renewable scholarship from an anonymous UWL Foundation donor. This financial support was pivotal, enabling her to focus on her health and academics without the added burden of financial stress. Schneider recalls the countless Zoom calls and assignments she completed while undergoing treatment at Children’s Wisconsin hospital in Milwaukee. 

“I didn’t get to start that new chapter of my life with everyone else,” Schneider says. 

Making new friends was a challenge, Schneider says, because she did not feel like herself while wearing a wig, her energy level was always low, and she was not allowed to interact with people in large groups or participate in activities that would cause fatigue or endanger her weak immune system.  

“I was given my own dorm room for sanitary needs. Being alone most of the time was a struggle. It’s not that other people viewed me as the ‘cancer kid,’ but it’s how I felt,” Schnieder says.  “It took me longer to complete assessments because my brain would become foggy. This became frustrating to me because I knew my potential, and I wasn’t meeting it.”

“I have so many people to thank for giving me support instead of pity, love instead of fear, and the strength to keep moving forward,” Schneider says.

During the spring semester of her freshman year, Schneider began attending classes in person, despite still being in treatment. She balanced academic responsibilities with bi-weekly trips to Milwaukee for treatment. Nevertheless, Schneider managed to finish her freshman year with a 4.0 GPA. 

Fast-forward to August of 2023, when Schneider would start her junior year in only a few weeks.  

“In August of 2023, I rang the bell to signify the end of my cancer treatment! This moment made everything that I had been through in the previous 2.25 years worth it,” Schneider says. “I slowly began to gain my confidence back and find my true self again.” 

Throughout her time at UWL, Schneider has made a lasting impression with instructors such as Teaching Professor of Biology Faye Ellis, who had Schneider for three courses. 

“Emily is a quiet student, not one to call attention to herself or need accolades from others,” Ellis says. “She was happy to help others, always kind and respectful to me, and I feel very lucky I was able to share in her education. She is going to change this world simply by being who she is. As Emily checked off one biology class and moved to the next, her confidence and resolve visually grew; during the last semester I worked with her, she radiated confidence in her knowledge and abilities, while remaining her kind and empathetic self.” 

Academically, Schneider’s junior year was more challenging, but she was able to conquer it while feeling healthy. However, in December, Schneider’s health journey took a step backward. 

“I was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in both of my shoulders. This is a side effect of medicines from my chemotherapy treatment,” Schneider explains. “As a result, both of my shoulders must be replaced.” 

After receiving the new diagnosis, Schneider made time to write a letter to her anonymous scholarship donor. 

“As always, I want to take a moment to thank you for your generosity towards my education,” Schneider wrote. “Relieving the stress of money has allowed me to focus on my academics and achieve high honors every semester.”

Activities that built up Schneider’s social life such as weightlifting, volleyball and basketball, were now off the table following her diagnosis. Her focus shifted to her other extracurricular involvements: being a member of the Pre-Physician Assistant Club and serving as president of the Wishmakers on Campus organization, which works closely with Make-A-Wish Wisconsin to raise money for children with critical illnesses.

“People often ask, ‘How is it you can experience everything you have and still have a smile on your face?’,” Schneider says. “I am determined. I am strong. I have an amazing support system and the belief that my life experiences are going to make me the best physician's assistant I can be. 

“I have so many people to thank for giving me support instead of pity, love instead of fear, and the strength to keep moving forward,” Schneider continues. “I am blessed to have been supported by all the amazing people here at UWL and I am fortunate to not have to fight alone.”

Scholarships Schneider was awarded:

  • 2021-2022: The UWL Anonymous Scholarship - $10,000, 4-year renewable (for incoming freshman) 
  • 2022-2023: Michael G and Mary J Aspenson Scholarship - $4,000 (for science majors) 
  • 2023-2024: Kimberly D. Grahm Memorial Scholarship - $1000 (for those who had childhood cancer) 
  • 2024-2025: Kimberly D. Grahm Memorial Scholarship - $1,250 (for those who had childhood cancer) 
  • Beverly Scheel McLoone Memorial Scholarship - $1,300 (for exercise sport science majors) 

Find out more about Foundation scholarships here, or visit the Scholarship Resource Center


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