Monday, August 17, 2015

The interest in obtaining her bachelor’s degree was always there. The means to pay for classes, however, wasn’t.

That all changed—in a big way—for Northeastern Illinois University student Gale Woods, who in May was awarded the first Internet Essentials Gold Medal Achievement Award from Comcast.

The media and technology company awarded Woods, a mother of three, a $25,000 scholarship to complete her final two years of college when she resumes her classes in the fall 2015 semester. It is the largest private philanthropic gift ever given to a Northeastern student.

“It’s been really fun being a student at Northeastern,” said Woods, who is pursing a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with a minor in Inner City Careers. “This scholarship helps keep me on track to get a college education.”

Even better: The scholarship came as a complete surprise.

A few years ago, Woods heard about Internet Essentials, a Comcast program that provides affordable broadband Internet service to eligible families, when she and her son saw a brochure in a local library. Woods signed up and had the opportunity to meet Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel during his televised press conference to announcing the benefits of the program.

The Internet Essentials program provided Woods with home Internet service just as she enrolled at Northeastern in 2011 and proved to be a valuable resource. Still, juggling the responsibilities of school, work and travel—while raising her now 13-year-old son, Austin—became a challenge. Despite a handful of small scholarships she received, Woods still felt uncertainty and stress about whether she’d be able to complete her education.

Comcast was so impressed by her tenacity that the company stepped in. Woods was invited to tell her story at an event in which Women in Cable Telecommunications presented Comcast with a Signature Accolade Award for public service for the Internet Essentials program. With Northeastern President Emerita Salme Harju Steinberg by her side, Woods was shocked to be presented with a $25,000 scholarship check.

“I didn’t even notice the huge piece of cardboard when they called me on stage,” said Woods, a Chicago native. “When they turned it around and I saw my name on it, I stood there astonished.”

The journey toward a college degree has been long but rewarding for Woods. She was inspired to go back to college after she moved to the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side—not too far from Northeastern’s Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies (CCICS).

“When I moved to Bronzeville, I got this great place. From my balcony, I could see the south campus of Northeastern Illinois University,” Woods said. “It has the big ‘N’ on there and it would light up at night. CCICS became a place that enchanted me. Then I thought to myself, ‘I need to go and get my college education.’ ”

Woods said receiving the scholarship has addressed those financial issues, and she is better prepared to deal with travel and work conflicts as she begins courses at the Carruthers Center this fall.

Woods said she hopes to complete her degree by December 2016, and her goal is to start a school or form an organization that provides resources in communities and throughout the world.

“I want to make a difference in the world,” Woods said. “I want to reach anybody and everybody.”