Rahab Kiruku works as a registered nurse at Providence Alaska Medical Center, helping patients make the transition from day surgery back to their lives. Rahab earned her nursing science degree eight years ago, yet still has all the letters UAA sent to congratulate her on scholarships she won. “I still think about it, how people are so generous,” said Rahab, an international student who traveled from Kiambu, Kenya, in December 2002 to attend UAA. “I applied for a lot of scholarships and felt thankful whenever I got one. Scholarships made a big difference in my life. Without scholarships, I would have had to go back home.”
‘You have to get money somehow’
Health care has long fascinated Rahab. “I think the human body is very intricate and interesting and I wanted to know how it functioned,” she said. “I also liked the aspect of caring for someone, helping them feel safe and better because of the knowledge you have.” She wanted to study in the United States, and came to Alaska because her church had a sister church here.
Rahab was 20 when she arrived, and faced challenges. Her mother, a widow living 20 minutes outside Nairobi, couldn’t afford to pay for more than her daughter’s first semester of classes. An international student, Rahab’s tuition cost three times more than Alaska-resident tuition. Even though she “felt very lucky and blessed” to live with a host family that provided her with room and board, Rahab had to shoulder international student insurance costs and buy books. She was not permitted to hold a job off campus, so Rahab earned money by working at the campus bookstore, in the AHAINA student services program and by tutoring students.
“The end of the semester was always bittersweet for me, because I was always wondering what I would do to pay for the next semester,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know until the beginning of the semester whether you got a scholarship. I was working full time even though they discourage you from working full time, but you have to get money somehow—you can’t just not work.”
‘It was a miracle’
Scholarships and tuition waivers offered Rahab some relief from the crush of financial demands.
“I was constantly on the scholarships page, all the time on those websites,” Rahab said. Most of the scholarships offered small amounts of assistance—$500, $750, $1,500, but one day, Rahab noticed a scholarship offering $4,000.
“That one covered everything, the entire semester,” Rahab said. “After I got that scholarship, I was so happy I wrote a thank-you letter to the donors.” Rahab graduated with her nursing science degree in 2006 and, five and a half years ago, accepted a job at Providence.
“When I look at my experience going through school, I can only say it was a miracle,” Rahab said. “I’d like to get to the point where I can help students, because I’ve been there. It takes the load off someone. I don’t know how I would have made it through school without that help.”
Story courtesy of Tracy Kalytiak, UAA