Cardinal Covenant program produces first graduate
When Nicole Wilkins graduated from UofL Saturday, she made a little history.
After compressing her college experience into three years, she became UofL's first Cardinal Covenant graduate.
"I kind of feel a little special," Wilkins said. "It's an honor to be the first graduate. I'm excited about it."
The Crofton communication major was among 267 students this academic year who continued to be enrolled in the special program UofL launched in 2007 to make college attainable for students around Kentucky who otherwise might not be able to attend.
Incoming freshmen who meet the criteria receive enough aid from various sources to cover their direct costs for tuition, room, board and books. Cardinal Covenant students can graduate debt-free if they complete their work within five years and remain eligible. Another 18 to 20 students from that initial group expect to graduate next spring.
"It's been helpful beyond belief," Wilkins said. She said her parents had set out her choice for life after her Christian County High School graduation: either go to college or go to work.
So she went to work at going to college. Wilkins said she tried hard for good high school grades and then "applied for every scholarship under the sun" for which she could qualify. She had her eye on pre-med studies at UofL.
"And then the Cardinal Covenant was just the icing on the cake and made my life a lot, lot easier, compared to what it could have been," she said.
Besides the funding, the Cardinal Covenant program offers support for its students and ensures they meet academic, career and community service requirements. "They help you become more well-rounded as an individual," Wilkins said.
For her community service, Wilkins chose to volunteer with the Kentucky Humane Society. She also was active in the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.
While at UofL, Wilkins lived on campus and took summer classes plus heavy classloads during the spring and fall semesters. She said she achieved her best gradepoint average the semester she took 18 hours of classes, worked a part-time job and did community service. "I slept on weekends," she said.
Wilkins spent the first half of her college life in pre-med but switched to communication after taking an intriguing class offered by that department.
"College opens a lot of doors. You get to say, 'Hey, I'm really interested in that.'"
Now she is considering several doorways to her future and the continuing university education needed for each. After returning home, she intends to take the remaining four classes that would complete her pre-med major and help qualify her for medical school, if she resumes that route to emergency room and trauma medicine. Also on her list of options are veterinary school and graduate communication studies leading to a doctorate and a potential college teaching career.
"I am a first-generation college student," Wilkins said. "I just wanted to better myself."