Jennifer M. Bejarano Huertas’ initial reaction to the announcement that she was selected for an ANY (America Needs You) scholarship was one of disbelief.
“When I got the email, I was like, ‘No way.’ I had to reread it again because I thought I had read it wrong,” she recalled.
The mother of four will complete her major in Allied Health, Pre-professional at Middlesex College this fall.
Transitioning to a four-year college and, more importantly, a career in healthcare, will be made that much more smoothly by the ANY scholarship.
The scholarship helps provide educational and career pathways for first-generation college students like Huertas, providing a personal mentor for two years to help guide recipients in choosing a major and identifying a bachelor’s degree program, along with providing professional networking and development opportunities.
“Having a mentor to help guide you through the higher education process is so critical for first-generation college students,” Huertas emphasized, adding that her mentor will be in the career field of her interest – healthcare.
“When I transfer, that mentor will be able to give me a professional insight into what major fits me,” she pointed out.
The scholarship program also conducts professional workshops two Saturdays each month that Huertas will begin attending in January.
“It will be at an actual site that is relevant to your career interest,” she said. “For example, if you’re interested in working at Johnson & Johnson, engineering or something like that they can help place you at a company doing something that is related to what you want to do.”
In addition to the networking and mentorship, the ANY scholarship provides up to $2,000, as well as an additional $1,000 to be used for business attire expenses.
“You have to be professionally dressed to attend the workshops whether they are in-person or virtual,” she noted.
Huertas only learned of the ANY scholarship through her statistics class at Middlesex College when Mathematics Professor Jennifer Applebee told her students about it last winter.
“I read the flyer and was like, ‘Wow, I want this,’ and filled out the application,” Huertas said. “And it was through Dr. Applebee, who is amazing. She is someone who cares for her students.”
Applebee describes Huertas’ determination to get a college education after so many years out of school as “an inspiration to all who decide to pursue their educational goals in a non-traditional time frame.”
“She continues to ‘wow’ me by her willingness to step out of her comfort zone. I know that Jennifer will take full advantage of all that the ANY scholarship has to offer, and the program will benefit from the participation of such a determined student,” Applebee said.
The ANY scholarship award is especially meaningful for Huertas. As a DACA student who has lived in the U.S. since she was less than two years old, Huertas is not eligible for federal financial aid.
“I’m going to grab every opportunity I can get because colleges and universities are not cheap. I really did not think I was going to be selected but I told myself to give it a try and see what happens. I’m so glad I did.”
Huertas hopes to become a nurse, specifically a labor and delivery nurse, and she plans to apply to the nursing program at Middlesex College. Until recently, she was not eligible to take the nursing exam, NCLEX, due to her DACA status.
But that changed last year when COVID-19 deepened the state’s existing nursing shortage. Consequently, Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation (S2455) lifting the ban that prohibited undocumented residents from obtaining professional licenses such as nursing. The law went into effect May 2020.
For Huertas, the new law is a life-changing opportunity, which she plans to take full advantage of at Middlesex College.
“I heard so many good stories about the nursing program and it being the toughest,” she said. “The past year with the pandemic motivated me even more to pursue that dream. It would be so fulfilling to be in a profession where I could help people.”