The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Published: June 23, 2016

A College of Western Idaho (CWI) graduate has received the opportunity of a lifetime. Shawn Gayner, who graduated from the Horticulture Technology program in May, will soon begin her studies at Dartmouth College. She will be attending the Ivy League School as one of 30 students in the nation to be selected as a Veterans Posse Scholar.

“An Ivy League school was never in my plans,” she said. “But this is an opportunity I could not pass up.”

The Posse Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization, launched its veterans program in 2012. The organization scours the country looking for military veterans who would excel at completing select private colleges. Scholars are then chosen from a pool of applicants. This year that pool was 1,000. The recipients’ tuition, books, fees, and some housing costs are covered.

“I thought maybe I would go on to a (regional) college, earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree, become a master gardener or plant breeder, and then go to work,” she said. “Instead, I will now be starting over as a freshman majoring in biology.”

Shawn’s story is not what you would call typical. She graduated from Meridian High School in 2009. Less than a year later she enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. She would spend the next five years stationed in sunny Southern California—working indoors as a telecommunications repair technician.

“It was always my intent to go to college after the military,” she said. “But I wanted to serve my country first. After working in a building with no windows for all of those years, I knew I wanted to choose a field where I could work outside and in nature.”

After becoming a mom and fulfilling her obligation as a U.S. Marine, Shawn volunteered to return to civilian life as part of the military’s downsizing measures. She returned home to Idaho and quickly rediscovered her passion for science. CWI became her college of choice.

“Horticulture is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) program,” she said. “Science-based classes that are fun because they are hands-on. I absolutely loved the program. It was rigorous, demanding, and opened a lot of doors for me. Even though I will be starting over, I certainly don’t feel like I wasted any time. If I hadn’t gone to CWI, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend Dartmouth.”

Shawn is currently wrapping up a summer-long research project at College of Idaho. For the past three months, she has been participating in the project as an INBRE (Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence) scholar; studying the possibility that sagebrush can be used in the future as a pharmaceutical. She plans on putting her horticulture background to use at Dartmouth’s organic farm and greenhouse.

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