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The Secret Sauce of STEM Scholarships

Celeste Irwin is a woman with a plan. Hard at work for nearly a decade, this gem of STEM is on track to graduate from her fourth higher education institution in 2024. Earning two Associate’s degrees and two Bachelor degrees is an amazing accomplishment—however, it is what Irwin has not acquired that has us most interested: College loan debt. Here’s the scoop on how she did it.
The Secret Sauce of STEM Scholarships - stem scholarships

Did you know? Students can come out on the other end of higher education without debt. How? You just have to be motivated, persistent, and a bit “like a dog with a bone,” says science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) student, Celeste Irwin. 

By early 2024, the now 26-year-old will have acquired two Associate’s degrees and two Bachelor’s degrees, all in STEM. And the best part? She has done it for next to nothing. You read that right. Irwin has no debt, thanks to community colleges, scholarships, and a lot of arduous work. 

So, where does BHG Financial come in? The firm has the honor of covering Irwin’s recent tuition bills. Specifically, BHG Financial is financing Irwin’s fall 2022 semester at Wright State University. Little did BHG know, however, this higher education master is a goldmine of advice when it comes to pursuing a degree for free. Here is the scoop on exactly how she did it.

The Secret Sauce of STEM Scholarships - stem scholarships
Celeste Irwin

Scholarships and Community Colleges

Irwin is going on record to challenge misperceptions about the quality and value of the education students can receive at their local community college.

“One of the things that I would like to tell anyone—women in STEM and otherwise—is looking to the cheapest school option. And by that, I mean community colleges,” says Irwin. “These institutions are the bread and butter of higher education.”

Why? Because they are bustling with all sorts of financial resources, lifestyle resources, mental health resources, educational resources, libraries, and tutoring programs, says Irwin. “Community colleges tend to have their own scholarship pools students can apply to, as well.” 

Another great perk? Scholarship money spent on community college tuition simply goes at lot further. For example, at a typical university, students will pay $400 to $600 or more per credit hour for these basic classes, which means each one will cost you $1,200 to $1,800. Community colleges typically charge $45 to $250 per credit hour, depending on where you go and your residency status.

Work at It

Literally. Go to work. Committees and companies willing to fund education costs want to see how award recipients use their passion in their everyday lives. Scholarship grantees want to see that candidates aren’t just pursuing a paper degree but a lifestyle and career they are excited about. 

That is why, after completing her first Associates degree thanks to scholarships provided by the New Mexico Lottery, Irwin went on to work full-time as a registered vascular sonographer for University of New Mexico Hospital. And, you guessed it, the hospital paid for her Bachelor of Science degree in radiologic sciences. 

A Minor Could Open Up More Doors

Irwin is currently earning her second Bachelor of Science degree, this time, from Wright State University. 

Located in Ohio, Wright State University has collaborated with a group of leading research institutions to launch a new network supporting semiconductor and microelectronics research and workforce needs in Ohio and the surrounding areas. With a little research, Irwin quickly confirmed that by selecting a minor focused on microelectronics education and training—something that is undoubtably valued on a national level—her tuition would be largely paid for by The Midwest Regional Network to Address National Needs in Semiconductor and Microelectronics.  

As part of the Financial Runner Scholarship award, Irwin will receive $5,000 to cover tuition costs along with industry networking and job shadowing opportunities at BHG, interview preparation, and career advice from other women in STEM-focused roles. With plans to use her clinical ultrasound experience and technical education in computer engineering to pursue a career in healthcare product development, Irwin graduates’ debt-free in 2024.

The Secret Sauce of STEM Scholarships - stem scholarships


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