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A scholarship changed the conversation for Jessica Payne

March 7, 2019

When B.B. and D.D. Dougherty founded Watauga Academy in 1899 — later to become Appalachian State University — they were building on the belief an education means empowerment.

For Jessica Payne, who is from Denton, and in her first year at Appalachian, that philosophy is making her dreams a reality.

Growing up, Payne said she always knew she wanted to attend college. Although no one in her family had attended college, she knew both the challenges and opportunity that came with that commitment. But coming from a small town made up of mostly low-income households, Payne had witnessed the burden of college tuition debt on others.

“I come from a family that has always struggled financially,” she shared. “I remember times from my childhood where my entire family had to skip meals at least twice a week to accommodate for things such as rent or a water bill. College was always a conversation that got cut short when costs came up.”

Payne was determined to get a degree, but she knew her family could not afford to help her pay for it. As deadlines approached, her dreams were starting to look unreachable.

Then, Appalachian offered Payne something that changed everything — a scholarship.

“When I got the letter, I didn’t believe it,” she said. “Something this fortunate and absolutely amazing couldn’t be real. I waited until the very last minute to accept because I just couldn’t believe it.”

With that scholarship letter, a new world of opportunity opened for Payne. Her goal is to major in biology with a concentration in cell/molecular biology and to move on to veterinary school after graduation.

Animals are her passion, she said, but she was not able to have a pet growing up. Now, she knows her education at Appalachian will enable her to pursue a career where she will get to care for the animals she loves every day.

Payne’s scholarship has empowered her to achieve her dreams and break the cycle of financial stress. But it has done more — it has provided her with a home.

“Without this scholarship, I’m homeless. But this has given me guaranteed housing until I graduate,” she said. “That is such a relief — to know I have a place to live.”

In a letter to the donor who funded her scholarship, Payne wrote, “I cannot express how much of a burden has come off not only my shoulders, but my family’s as well. It is because of you that I will have a college education. It is because of you that my future children will not have to purposely skip meals the way that I had to. And it is because of you that all of the animals that I plan to save using my degree will now have a home. I am forever grateful and so very appreciative of your generosity.”