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‘The doors had finally opened up for me’: Hawaii Promise scholarship helps single mother achieve her goals

After 10 years of higher education, Hilo resident Mariah Castro is finally working as a registered nurse after graduating from Hawaii Community College this year.

Castro, 28, was one of 1,900 recipients of the Hawaii Promise scholarship aid from the University of Hawaii’s seven community colleges for the 2020-2021 academic year.

About $3 million was awarded, with an average of $1,551 given to each recipient who qualified for resident tuition and demonstrated financial need.

Castro started her prerequisite classes in 2011 when her son was 1-year old, but did not get into the Licensed Practical Nurses program at HCC until 2017.

She finished the program in 2018 and quickly returned to complete the registered nursing program, which prepares students to take and pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nursing, or NCLEX-RN.

“I’m a single mother to a soon-to-be 11-year-old, and the struggle to stay afloat while also striving to get ahead has been ongoing since deciding to go back to school,” Castro said. “It was a lot to juggle, because I also had to keep working in the emergency room as a Certified Nursing Assistant.”

Castro received the Hawaii Promise scholarship for the first time during her last year of the registered nursing program.

Recipients were first awarded Pell grants, UH scholarships and private scholarships before being awarded a Hawaii Promise scholarship for unmet direct costs such as tuition, fees, books, supplies and local transportation. A high percentage of recipients are underrepresented students.

“The scholarship definitely buffered the cost, because I was in school for so long that I exhausted financial aid and was paying out of pocket,” Castro said. “It was like the doors had finally opened up for me, as I felt like I was constantly trying to open a locked door. I felt relieved that I could receive the help that I so desperately needed.”

After graduating with associate’s degrees in nursing and liberal arts in May, Castro passed the NCLEX-RN on Friday, July 2, to officially become a registered nurse.

Castro is currently working as a nurse at Ka Wai Ola Medical Center in Keaau under nurse practitioner Leilani Kerr.

“What I’m most excited about is the opportunities that have opened up to me,” Castro said. “It’s another stepping stone to a nursing doctorate degree, and that’s where I see myself. It’s laying foundation for what I want in the long run.”

Until she decides to go back to school, Castro plans to gain as much experience as she can while continuing to raise her son.

“I’d like to think (my son) is proud of me,” Castro said. “I try to show him that being hardworking will help you be successful and teach him to never give up when things get hard.”

Email Kelsey Walling at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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