New scholarship opportunity for women

Samantha Vise, Staff Writer

The Shoals branch of The American Association of University Women (AAUW) has opened a new scholarship for reentering women, or women who have reentered college after taking a gap in their education. The scholarship opened on Dec. 8 and closed Jan. 5. 

Eligible applicants for the scholarship must be a full-time female undergraduate student at the University of North Alabama, have completed at least one semester at UNA, not already have a four-year undergraduate degree and have had a gap in their education of at least five years, according to the Mitchell-West Center for Social Inclusion. 

Four scholarships of $1,000 each will be awarded to the winning students. The scholarship is sponsored by the Shoals branch of the AAUW-Alabama and promoted by UNA’s Center for Women’s Studies, according to the center’s associate director, Alyson Bergner. 

The scholarship was started in the early to mid 1990s by members of the AAUW, according to Emily Kelley, the head of the scholarship committee for the past 13 years. 

“We think it was started by members Eleanor Gaunder, who was a retired professor from UNA, and Harriet Edwards,” said Kelley. “We’re gauging somewhere between 1993 and 1996, which is when I joined.”

Gaunder and Edwards felt that older women were not treated equally in the realm of education and they knew that needed to change. They founded this scholarship in order to give older women more opportunities to receive the aid they needed. They saw that most women who had to take time off from school were unlikely to return, and they wanted to encourage them to return and earn their degrees. 

“They were concerned about the fact that there were a lot of opportunities for scholarships for younger women who were entering university for the first time, but there weren’t so many opportunities and scholarships for older women – especially those returning to school after large gaps in their education,” Kelley said. “They decided to offer the scholarship for these women, returning women specifically.”

The AAUW was founded in 1881 to promote equity and advocate for women and girls, according to 

“AAUW’s main goal is the advancement of equity for women and girls,” Kelley said. “That’s what [Gaunder and Edwards] wanted to do with the scholarship, specifically for reentering women.”

The scholarship used to be open only to women earning four-year degrees, but was recently opened to applicants earning a two-year degree to increase the applicant pool, according to Kelley.

“I was the coordinator for the Center for Women’s Studies for ten years when I used to work for UNA,” Kelley said. “I have very strong feelings about the scholarship and how necessary it is. I am going to talk to the board about possibly opening it up to more than just reentering women because we’re just not getting as many applicants as I’d hope to. We used to get a ton of applicants, and I know there’s a lot of women reentering university – I don’t know for sure why we’re not getting a lot of applicants anymore.”

Although the scholarship is granted to four recipients, only two women received this scholarship in 2022. Kelley feels this might be because not enough women know about the AAUW, nor do they know about the scholarship opportunity. She hopes that staying connected with the recipients will increase membership and help promote the scholarship in the future. 

“We haven’t [kept up with recipients] in the past, but we’re trying to now,” Kelley said. “We’re trying to make contact with them to see what happens in their future and what they go on to do. That’s why we’re telling them they’re required to go to the Green Tea and our annual luncheon in May.”

Scholarship winners are required to attend the AAUW Shoals Branch Green Tea and their annual luncheon. The Green Tea is an event held by members to raise money for the scholarship and they welcome all members to donate. Their annual luncheon is held at the home of a member and allows them to keep in touch and reconnect once a year.

The Shoals Branch of the AAUW is very active and hardworking, according to Kelley. Members primarily stay connected through various book groups that the chapter offers. 

“AAUW has been around for a long time,” Kelley said. “It’s a national organization open to women who have a degree of some sort, whether that be a two-year degree or a four-year degree. We recently opened it to women with two-year degrees because, frankly, membership was declining.”

Kelley hopes that the campus chapter of AAUW at UNA gains more membership. The AAUW has been fighting for women’s equality since 1881, but the fight is far from over.

“AAUW works for equity for women and girls. Social equity, financial equity and equity in employment,” Kelley said. “These are really key issues, and this is a strong organization that has gone through a lot of changes over the years, especially since the technological revolution. You can imagine the ways we’ve grown since the Suffragette Movement, and we’re still fighting to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed. It’s all those things that we work for and must keep working for.”


Kelley, originally from New York, is thankful for her membership in the AAUW-Alabama. 

“If it wasn’t for AAUW, I don’t know where I’d be,” Kelley said. “They really saved my intellectual life. I encourage all young women to get involved, to stay involved after graduation and join the fight – unfortunately, it’s still really important and there’s so much work to be done.”