Where Are They Now? ‘Partners in Lifelong Learning’ Scholarship Awardee Gittel Helfand

Initiated in 2008, Excelsior College’s Partners in Lifelong Learning has raised more than $430,000 benefiting more than 400 adult students in financial need from the New York Capital Region and its surrounding areas. With the seventh annual celebration scheduled for April 23, 2014, Excelsior Life catches up with past winners to learn how earning a degree helped shape their life.  

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Gittel Helfand returned to school for the same reason as many in the education field – to earn certification and become a better-rounded educator.

As a private school teacher, she needed to find a program though that offered the flexibility to balance academics with a full-time career. Her research led to Excelsior College. Though apprehensive on the distance learning model, the online, 8-week courses fit her needs, allowing her to pursue a degree on her own-time.

“I had a wonderful academic experience” said Helfand, who is set to graduate this spring. “Excelsior offers a user-friendly, supportive academic experience for students…and the advising committee really helped guide me through my degree process. I found the librarians extremely helpful when I needed their assistance. ”

Due to her love of core subjects, Helfand decided on a Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts, with the understanding that the content would relate to her own teaching career. For instance, after completing a course on the Civil War, she created an extended unit on that very subject for use with her junior high school students.

Of course, there were obstacles along the way to degree attainment.

“My biggest challenge was juggling the course-load with my full-time job and home responsibilities,” reflected Helfand. “(But) my family was supportive. If I were online or writing papers, they would appreciate that and take some of the responsibilities off my shoulders. And I used my Sundays to complete the bulk of the coursework.”

Her experience with Excelsior has inspired Helfand to continue on with her academic career in hopes of earning a graduate degree. It’s a pursuit that may not have been possible without the financial assistance she received from Excelsior.

“I am grateful for the (scholarship) donors for helping to remove any worry that I had about paying for college,” said Helfand, who will graduate debt-free due in part to the Partners in Lifelong Learning Award. “I would have had sleepless nights about how I would repay loans. Every lesson I teach my students will be because of their generosity!”

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Read about other Partners in Lifelong Learning Awardees:

Amanda Passaretti