Scholarships Level the Field for People With Disabilities

Erika Rebstock and 37 other students are attending college this year with help from the Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People with Disabilities.
Oct 19, 2017 3:00 PM ET
Erika Rebstock and 37 other students are attending college this year with help from the Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People with Disabilities

Scholarships level the field for people with disabilities

When Erika Rebstock was preparing for college, she was shocked that she couldn’t find more financial aid options for people with disabilities — and that she wasn’t eligible for many of the ones she did find.

“I was born with one arm, so I was thinking there might be a scholarship or grant that, because of my birth defect, would help with money for college,” said Rebstock, who is from Medford, New Jersey. “When I looked, the ones I found required the person to have a wheelchair, and people with disabilities that don’t require physical support weren’t eligible.”

Fortunately, Rebstock, a freshman at Rutgers University-Camden, in Camden, New Jersey, found the Wells Fargo Scholarship Program for People with Disabilities. Administered by Scholarship America®, the program helps people with disabilities obtain the education or training necessary to succeed in the career path of their choice. Rebstock received a $2,500 scholarship that she used to buy a computer and help with costs — like gas and car insurance — to commute to and from school.

“It’s a great opportunity for people that are often alienated by the rest of society,” Rebstock said. “It enables them to receive the same opportunities as others.”

A call for applications

In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, Wells Fargo has announced it is accepting online applications for its scholarship program for the 2018-19 academic year through Nov. 28, 2017, or until 700 applications have been submitted.

Applicants must have an identified disability; a minimum GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale, or its equivalent; and be a high school senior or graduate who plans to enroll, or who is already enrolled, in full-time or half-time undergraduate study at an accredited two-year or four-year college or university in the U.S. for the entire 2018-19 academic year. The scholarships are also renewable.

“We were thrilled with the overwhelming response and outpouring of gratitude from recipients in the first year,” said Kathy Martinez, senior vice president and head of disability and accessibility strategy at Wells Fargo. “It was a clear indicator that there is a need for programs that help make career aspirations a reality for people with disabilities. We look forward to offering the program again.”

In October 2016, Wells Fargo committed $1 million over four years to Scholarship America to develop and implement the program. Thirty-eight students in the U.S. were selected to receive up to $2,500 the first year.

‘I'm capable of what I set my mind to’

In addition to Rebstock, Katherine Chamblin, a freshman at the University of Washington in Seattle, was another of the 38 scholarship recipients. She was so excited when she found out she would receive $2,500 that she “did a little jig in my room.”

Chamblin, who is from Bellingham, Washington, said she liked that the scholarship program is specifically for individuals with disabilities and gives people an opportunity to obtain higher education. She has used the money to help pay for her on-campus housing.

“I’m very honored to be one of the people who can go on to higher education and make the best of my abilities,” Chamblin said. “It is finite evidence that I’m capable of what I set my mind to.”

Chamblin is planning on majoring in chemistry, with a minor in disability studies, while Rebstock is majoring in nursing and is considering working with children with disabilities. “If I didn’t have this scholarship, I probably wouldn’t be attending the college I am,” Rebstock said. “I’m glad I found it.”