Returning UND student will use Open Door Scholarship to spare other mothers what she’s been through.
I admit, it must have been a sight to see: I was launching a backpack into a tree in hopes of freeing a mitt that a tee-ball player had gotten stuck after a game – an innocent experiment gone wrong. One of the parents noticed my struggle.
“Can I help you?” she asked with an understandably confused look on her face. I explained the reason for my antics, and this perfect stranger offered more than I expected.
“Stand on my back,” she said. With her help, I managed to get the height I needed to shake the mitt free and hand it back to its owner.
Heather Lentz introduced herself as a student taking online classes at UND and a mom of two daughters. We chatted a bit before going our separate ways.
A few months later, Heather’s name showed up on a list of Open Door Scholarship recipients who were willing to share about their need for tuition assistance the new fund provides. Over Zoom, I learned more about the woman who gave me a boost up that summer evening.
Daughter of an Air Force servicewoman, Heather was a “big fan” of UND once her family settled in Grand Forks. She intended to make the university her alma mater, but with little money to pay for an education, she joined the Army National Guard. In 2006, she was accepted into UND’s Aviation program.
A few months into her first semester, she found out she was pregnant – and it wasn’t easy. Heather was put on bed rest for preterm labor. Her daughter was born early, weighing five pounds with medical conditions that needed attention.
“And I was still trying to go to school,” explained Heather. “But I ended up failing that whole semester because I just couldn’t handle it as a brand-new mom.”
Heather dropped out of UND.
After encouragement from her father, she tried school again – this time Northland Community & Technical College – and graduated with an Associates in Pharmacy Technician degree in 2011.
She landed a job with a healthcare system where her duties varied from filling prescriptions to monitoring computer technicians as they fixed their machines. “That’s where I truly fell in love with the back end of computer systems,” said Heather.
Heather’s interest in computer systems was heightened by her own tragedy a few years later.
After another difficult pregnancy, Heather’s son was stillborn at 28 weeks. Just hours after being released from the hospital, she and her husband drove to the funeral home to plan their baby’s service and burial.
Depression set in and the heartache continued. At her six-week follow up appointment, Heather was sitting in the exam room when her primary care provider entered and asked about the new baby.
Heather was shocked by the question: “Someone forgot to put in my chart that my son died,” said Heather. A misstep in an electronic charting process is what motivated her to return to college for computer science.
Heather says she harbors no bitterness against the medical staff: “I’m in a better place now, and I just want to be able to fix systems so that this doesn’t happen to another woman,” she explained.
She reapplied to UND in 2018 – this time to the Computer Science program in the College of Engineering & Mines. After dropping out nearly 13 years earlier, Heather was set on finishing her degree.
“At this point, I can’t turn around. If I get out of school or fail again this time, then I have to pay back a lot of loans. I’m kind of jumping in feet-first,” said Heather.
I’m a mom, a single mom who’s making ends meet and getting through school to make a difference for other people.
Heather ran a small daycare out of her home in Northwood, North Dakota, for supplemental income while she took classes online, but COVID-19 caused her to shut the business down. As the primary caretaker of two her daughters, she was in a tight spot.
When Heather learned about the Open Door Scholarship, she thought she might qualify for the tuition aid it offered and filled out the application.
“I talked about how COVID hit, and how I was just scraping by to keep the house that my kids have grown up in… so I’m doing the odd jobs to keep the bills paid while going to school. And having that extra money would help me keep the house because my tuition would be covered.”
Two weeks later – the week tuition was due – she received an email saying she got the scholarship.
While listening to her story, I couldn’t help but recall the simple act of kindness that Heather showed to me at the tee-ball field. Her actions parallel those of our alumni and friends who have given a boost to students they’ve never met, students who are trying to reach their goals.
In Heather’s words, “It’s not just about me. I’m a mom, a single mom who’s making ends meet and getting through school to make a difference for other people. So thank you for allowing me to continue my education.”
The Open Door Scholarship provides tuition assistance to help students finish their degrees. UND Student Finance will take into account the unique financial situation of every student and award an average of $1,000 to those who qualify. Open the door a little wider for students like Heather this year.