Tiffany Stewart has much more on her plate than the typical Wright State University nursing student. She is a single mother of two children with special needs.
Stewart’s 14-year-old son, John, and her 13-year-old daughter, Lola, were both born with Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that causes mild to severe intellectual disability. It affects both males and females, but females usually have milder symptoms.
With two children who need her undivided attention, Stewart takes classes at Wright State during the day while John and Lola are at school. She first developed an interest in nursing when her younger brother, John, was hospitalized with bone cancer.
“He made friends with other kids in the hospital, and the nurses would always make sure that the kids could see each other,” she said. “The nurses were amazing.”
John battled cancer for two years before passing away at the age of 10. Tiffany was 14.
“Everyone knew me as the girl whose brother died,” recalled Stewart, who grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh. “It was a lot for a teenager. Kids can be cruel.”
Stewart ended up dropping out of high school and got pregnant with her son shortly thereafter. When Stewart and her mother relocated to Ohio to be closer to a Fragile X specialist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, she was able to get her life back on track. She got her GED, enrolled at Sinclair Community College, and later transferred to Wright State to begin working on a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
While Stewart credits good time management skills with helping her balance parenthood and school, she is especially thankful for a scholarship that has lifted some of her financial burden.
Stewart is a recipient of the Joyce Rutherford-Donner Nursing Scholarship, which provides tuition, books and supplies for a nursing major who is also a single parent. Rutherford-Donner attended Wright State as a single mother, earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1982.
“The scholarship has made a huge difference. I am just extremely grateful,” said Stewart, who recently had the opportunity to meet Rutherford-Donner. “Joyce sees that there is potential in me. People don’t always see potential in single mothers or in mothers in general. Joyce knows that you’re not just a parent; you’re still your own person with your own hopes and dreams.”
During their meeting, Rutherford-Donner provided Stewart with some much-needed advice, encouragement and support.
“Joyce is one of the few who said, ‘you can do it.’ It’s always nice to know that somebody believes you can do it,” said Stewart. “There are definitely times throughout the college journey where you question if you can.”