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IFW "Was There like an Angel" for UAlbany Doctoral Student

From left, Nancy Belowich-Negron, Pauline Bush, Debernee Pugh, and Carmen Caamaño spoke recently about how significant winning an IFW award was to them.


From left, Nancy Belowich-Negron, Pauline Bush, Debernee Pugh, and Carmen Caamaño spoke recently about how significant winning an IFW award was to them.

By Greta Petry (April 8, 2005)

Nancy Belowich-Negron, director of Disabled Student Services, recalled the power of what an Initiatives For Women (IFW) grant can do, at the March 10 Winter Forum.

With her first award in 1995, Belowich-Negron took a graduate student with her to a federally funded program in Minneapolis, where they were teaching leadership skills to students with disabilities.

The student, Michelle Macalalad, was a quiet, physically frail young woman who was suffering from a brain tumor. After the conference was over, the plane leaving Minneapolis was grounded for two hours. When the plane finally took off and arrived at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, passengers learned the flight was grounded again because of thunder, lightning, and hail.

"There were about two million people standing around the airport, and all the flights were cancelled," Belowich-Negron said. They were told to sleep in the airport. At this point, Belowich-Negron grew concerned, because Michelle was prone to seizures, and all her medication was on the plane.

But Michelle, having just taken the leadership course, took charge.

"She went to the front of the line and said, ‘I need help,' to total strangers. She took control of our situation. I will always be grateful to IFW for that," said Belowich-Negron. "I was just blessed to have that week with Michelle, who later passed away."

Belowich-Negron's second grant from IFW "enabled me to do something which truly changed the course of my life." That grant was used to pursue National Coali­tion Building Institute training. Belowich-Negron also pointed out that every year a disabled student has been included in the IFW awards, and that more than $8,000 has gone to disabled students since the first awards were given out in 1994.

Like Belowich-Negron, each of the four panelists at the Winter Forum had a story to tell about how IFW assistance had gotten them over a hurdle that stood in the way of their education.

Carmen Caamaño, a doctoral student in the Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, said, "IFW came when I didn't have any more funding. IFW came like an angel." Caamaño, a past recipient of the Christine E. Bose and Edna Acosta-Belen IFW Feminist Research Award, is focusing on cultural changes and labor migrations of Costa Ricans to the United States in her dissertation.

"If you have no money to start your research, you can't continue your career," said Caamaño. Then students are forced to find other ways to make money, which takes time away from their research.

"IFW just saved my life," Caamaño said. Later, during a question-and-answer period, Caamaño said that while she is single, many of her female colleagues are married and have children. "Most women have to deal with all the guilt of leaving their family" to pursue their education, she said. She sees them around campus, constantly on the cell phone, checking in with the sitter. Then they will compare themselves to her and admire how quickly she is accomplishing her goals. "But I don't have to pick up the children from school and make the dinner," she said.

Pauline Bush, an undergraduate sociology major and 2001 Avon Life Impact Scholarship award recipient, said she is grateful for the help of IFW, as well as that of many "wonderful people," including Katharine Briar-Lawson, dean of the School of Social Welfare, and Kathy Turek, former chair of IFW.

"I am just so grateful to all of you," said Bush, who said staying in school has taken extra support while she battles chronic fatigue syndrome.

Debernee Pugh, a doctoral student in the School of Criminal Justice, a residence hall director, and a 2004 IFW President's Award recipient, said other students and staff should apply for IFW awards. "I encourage you to go for it," Pugh said. "If you don't get it, you don't. You have nothing to lose, only everything to gain."

Belowich-Negron said the IFW application is user friendly and the skills learned in the process can be applied to writing other grants. "Do you have an idea? Is it fundable? How do you evaluate it?" she said.

Event chair Rosann Santos moderated the panel and organized the Winter Forum event. She noted the Mother's Day fund-raising campaign runs through May 1. In addition, IFW is seeking walkers and sponsors for the June 4 Freihofer's Walk/Run for Women, and the Summer Celebration will be July 21. In the fall, there will be a new fall fund-raising event for IFW, a celebration of women's talents. Possibilities include singing, a dance troupe, and poetry.