CALS Scholarship Recipient Sheila O’Neil Serves Seniors

cals scholarship recipient

In our February blog, “Need Help Paying For Graduate School? Where to Look,” we offered students multiple resources for financial support, within the YFCS program, within NC State and outside of NC State. Then, we focused on Mariama Ashcroft, a YFCS student who independently secured school funding, in March’s “Financial Support: One Student’s Search + Success.” This month, we introduce you to another one of our students who earned financial support to pursue her educational goals.

Sheila O’Neil is in her first year of the Youth, Family, and Community Sciences (YFCS) Masters program at NC State. She currently works as a Volunteers of America (VOA) service coordinator for low-income seniors in New Bern, NC in a Housing and Urban Development (HUD) property. In Spring of 2017, Ms. O’Neil earned the YFCS Full-Tuition Merit Based Scholarship; the award offered her the opportunity to pursue graduate education. We spoke to her about her education and career plans.

NC State: What educational and professional background led you to this program?

Sheila O’Neil: The full-year scholarship I received from the NC State YFCS graduate program was a gift from God. I have tried to attain graduate education previously, but I could not afford it. However, I did pursue other avenues of education and earned a Patient Advocacy Certificate through Cleveland State University; became a Nationally Certified Psychiatric Technician through the American Association of Psychiatric Technicians; and became a Nationally Credentialed Advocate through the National Organization for Victims Assistance (NOVA) National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP). I am also a volunteer on our local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) where, due to my additional education, I have taught in areas of Trauma and Psychological First Aid.

NC State: How did you learn about the scholarship?

SO: I had previously looked into this NC State program and was on their email list when I received an email notification of the scholarship in Spring 2017. I applied, interviewed, earned the scholarship and started the program in Fall 2017. I am now and will forever be grateful for this opportunity.

NC State: What is your career’s area of focus? What does your occupation entail?

SO: Although I am in the YFCS program at NC State, my focus area is gerontology. I have previously worked with other populations, including at-risk pre-kindergartners; at-risk high school youth; and military families as a Marine, Marine Corps spouse, and Key Volunteer Coordinator/acting Family Readiness Officer. My passion for seniors began after I started working independently, helping those in my neighborhood. I have held my current position as Service Coordinator for low-income seniors in New Bern for one-and-a-half years.

I function in many capacities in my current position, with the overall goal of helping my residents successfully age in place. I act in a position of information and referral. I help “connect the dots” of residents’ needs with appropriate available services, including transportation, assistance, counseling, education and health services. I focus on a “whole-person” approach to include tangible needs along with social and personal enrichment opportunities. I also establish partnerships within the community to encourage support for my residents. In my challenging but rewarding position, I lead with a compassionate and caring heart and know I make a positive difference in the lives of others.

NCSU: How has your NC State education contributed to your current role?

SO: My continued growth and knowledge help me better understand the needs of this population. My pursuit of education not only enables me to better serve current residents, but also to formulate new opportunities for advocating for them and future residents. I do have concern for our aging military members, but now that I have seen firsthand the needs of the civilian population, I know the needs are much more global. My education in the YFCS program allows me to focus my studies and research on the gerontological population, which enables me to learn more deeply about the issues affecting them.

NCSU: What are your future plans after graduation?

SO: In the future, I plan to continue to serve directly and indirectly, both as a service coordinator and as an advocate from a grassroots background. Without the YFCS scholarship, I could not do so. The scholarship has positively impacted my personal life and will enable me to continue positively impacting many other lives to come.

Check back each month to the YFCS blog as we discuss topics around youth, family and community sciences and the online programs at NC State.