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‘Just the most incredible feeling in the world’

September 5, 2019
Siera Sadowski reads a book int he Rush Rhees Library reading roomFor first-generation college student Siera Sadowski ’23, the financial freedom of a Handler Scholarship and the academic freedom of Rochester’s curriculum are opening doors. (University of Rochester photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Siera Sadowski ’23 says reading and writing are among her passions. Growing up, she pursued them in the face of numerous challenges.

Her family relied on food stamps and went through periods without heat in their house.

“But I always had a roof to sleep under,” she says. “Not the poorest of the poor, but very close.”

Her mom wasn’t in the picture, her brother suffered a stroke at 22 (and remains disabled), and her dad found work as a handyman wherever he could. The family moved a lot: Las Vegas. Buffalo. Dallas. Back to Buffalo. Back to Dallas. Siera spent one school year living with a neighbor who had three kids of her own.

No one in her family had attended college, and some never completed high school. But she benefited from strong support from her father, not to mention her own discipline and drive.

“Even though he didn’t go himself, my father instilled in me that a college education is super important,” she says. “I’ve dreamed of attending college since I was a kid.”

students form the numbers 23

Meet the Class of 2023

They come from 44 states and 65 countries. Twenty percent are the first in their family to attend college. Welcome to Rochester, Class of 2023.

This fall Sadowski begins a new chapter, as both a Handler Scholar and a GRADE Scholar at the University of Rochester. The Handler Scholarship is the University’s leading award, giving a more-than-full tuition to Rochester for students who have demonstrated academic excellence and a high financial need. GRADE stands for Guaranteed Rochester Accelerator Degree in Education, offering students a bachelor’s degree from the College and master’s degree from the Warner School of Education in five years.

“Being a Handler Scholar is an incredible feeling, because it means someone believes in me,” says Sadowski. She is considering a double major in English and international relations, and cites the open curriculum as a major reason she was drawn to Rochester.

After her high school graduation, she took a gap year during which she joined a program called Global Citizen Year, teaching English to high school students in Ecuador. “It was incredible,” she says. “The kids were amazing, and it solidified my interest in going into education someday.”

She has been writing stories since she was a child.

“Usually, I write a lot of fantasy, because that’s a lot of what I’ve read,” she says. “I’ve written on different fan fiction websites—they’re parodies of existing stories like Hunger Games and Harry Potter.”

More recently, she became a published author in a poetry anthology. “I write everything from really happy dirge-type poetry to really sad feelings-based poetry.”

Sadowski has big plans for her time in Rochester.

“I want to become fluent in two languages—maybe German and Arabic—and I want to study abroad in Germany and maybe the Middle East,” she says. “I want to get involved in the Rochester community. There is such a disparity, and so much poverty. I feel in my soul that I need to help contribute to the solution.”

She counts her blessings every day that she now has the time and the means to earn an education and better herself.

“For most of my life, I’ve been an underdog, always facing some sort of issue,” she says. “To have the financial freedom now, and the freedom of choice to study whatever I want, is just the most incredible feeling in the world.”

 

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