OC grad gets second chance with UWT’s Next Step Scholarship

Thea Oliphant-Wells, an Olympic College grad, is the recent recipient of the University of Washington-Tacoma’s Next Step Scholarship.  - Courtesy photo
Thea Oliphant-Wells, an Olympic College grad, is the recent recipient of the University of Washington-Tacoma’s Next Step Scholarship.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Thea Oliphant-Wells knows all too well what a second chance can do for a person.

Thanks to the University of Washington-Tacoma’s Next Step Scholarship, the Olympic College grad is getting one of those rare chances.

“I had no idea what I was capable of until I tried, little by little, to take on new challenges,” Oliphant-Wells said. “I have had people that said they believe in me and that helped me believe in myself.”

This year, six students were nominated by the presidents of UW-Tacoma’s regional, two-year partner institutions as outstanding scholars, and while Oliphant-Wells was one of them, she was not originally chosen to receive the scholarship.

“I recieved a letter from UWT that said I was nominated, but they had chosen someone else,” she said. “I was honored to have been nominated.”

But the OC grad would soon be contacted by UWT with some phenomenal news.

“A couple of months later I recieved an e-mail and followed up with a phone call and was told that they reconsidered my application and had decided to award me with the scholarship,” she added.

The scholarship provides $3,000 a year, for two years for students to use for tuition and books. Students are expected to stay in school, maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 3.25 and write thank-you letters and updates for the 30 community donors, who contribute $50,000 each to the scholarship fund.

Oliphant-Wells said she got started on her education a little later in life due to some bad years dealing with addiction.

“I had been struggling with substance abuse for many years and finally found my way to recovery,” she said. “I always wanted to go to school, but my drug addiction and lack of ambition held me back.”

Oliphant-Wells found a path back from the abyss of substance abuse in 2005 and proceeded to exceed her own expectations.

“I’ve been clean since July 19, 2005,” she said. “Recovery has allowed me to achieve so much more than I could have imagined. I started my associates degree in 2006 at age 29 and I graduated from OC with dean’s honors and a 3.86 GPA.”

Oliphant-Wells said she had a “life-changing” experience while volunteering at the Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women.

“I don’t believe in lost causes because at one time in my life I could’ve easily been labeled that,” she said. “I believe in the value of the women offenders that I have met at MCCCW. I know that to change my life I needed the help and support of others and I do my best to pass that on. I have facilitated a 12-step meeting and been a part of presentations for Oxford House. Oxford House is clean and sober living. I lived in an Oxford house for about a year and a half and that experience was invaluable in helping me stay clean. Oxford House has a re-entry program to help addicts and alcoholics coming out of prisons to have a safe and stable start back in our communities.”

Oliphant-Wells is now working on a bachelor’s degree in social welfare and said helping people is her greatest motivation.

“I would really like to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said. “I have not always been an asset to society, but I’d like to make up for the years I wasted. Helping others has helped me to feel like a worthwhile person again. I am hoping to be a social worker with great compassion and integrity.”

Oliphant-Wells said she has had a lot of help from counceleors and therapists along her path to success and she still regularly attends 12-step meetings to help her steer clear of her past addictions. According to Oliphant-Wells, she could not have done it alone and had a great deal of help along the way.

“My support network is amazing,” she said. “Without my family I don’t know how I would’ve made it through the tough times. I have had so much support from them throughout my education, I don’t think I could’ve achieved what I have without them.”

She said she has a lot of respect for the teachers and staff at OC and her experience there was nothing but positive.

“My teachers at OC were exceptional instructors,” Oliphant-Wells said. “I had such a positive experience there I sometimes wish I could go back but I can hear them cheering me on as I continue my education at UWT. I have stayed in touch with two of my instructors at OC and hope to continue touching base with them through the years.”

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