Simple Gifts program helps student through educational journey

By: By Chase Jordan -

After several years of hard work, Ryan Wuester recently became an alumna of Bridgewater College. Now, she’s looking forward to the next step in her life.

With her degree, she will begin her educational journey as a teacher in her home county. In the fall, she’ll be teaching physical science and biology at Union High School (UHS).

“I’m incredibly excited about it,” Wuester said. “It’s an incredible opportunity that I have to give back to the community.”

The Simple Gifts Scholarship Program played a major role in the chapter of her life in Bridgewater, Va. Before she began classes, Bridgewater College offered $25,000. Simple Gifts filled the void by providing $14,000 each year.

“It helped tremendously to help pay for college,” Wuester said.

Scholarships are awarded annually to seniors from Sampson County Schools and Clinton City Schools, as well as students attending Sampson Community College. Applicants are required to graduate in the top 25 percent of their class and show academic achievement, good character and leadership. Funds are awarded to individuals with plans to attend a four-year private liberal arts institution, outside of North Carolina. Money is provided for unmet needs.

Wuester, a Lakewood High School (LHS) graduate, was a member of the third class of Simple Gifts Fund Scholars. It has grown to 27 scholars in nine states and Washington, D.C.

“It is wonderful to have Ryan come back to Sampson County with her expanded world view and experiences which will enrich our community,” said Margaret Turlington, coordinator of the program.

Turlington hopes that current high school students take advantage of the opportunity to meet the scholars when they visit. During that time, Turlington said this provides an opportunity for them to learn about experiences.

Wuester said the Simple Gifts is very generous and selfless program.

“They’re doing great things to allow students in our community to go to other states and learn about other cultures and areas,” she said. “What they bring back with them is awesome.”

For local high school thinking about leaving North Carolina, Wuester expressed how Simple Gifts is a good avenue for it. She also encouraged students to seek out opportunities at private, liberal arts colleges.

“It’s a unique one of a kind experience and it’s unparalleled,” Wuester said.

She was inspired by her mother Jennifer Wuester to become a teacher. Wuester wants to help students, just like her mother did.

“I always wanted to follow in her footsteps, ever since I was a young girl,” she said.

Recently, she made a trip to UHS to observe how everything works and make connections. Wuester said it feels like a family.

At Bridgewater College, Wuester was involved in several organizations. While receiving her education at LHS, she was in the Beta, science and math clubs. She was also captain of the soccer team. After graduation, Wuester said it was challenging being so far away from home, but Bridgewater College is where she belonged.

“We knew after four years I would be coming home,” she said. “It was an easy decision to make because it was such an incredible opportunity.”

Ryan Wuester, second from left, will become a teacher at Union High School in the fall. She is pictured with family members, Jennifer, Bryan and Matthew Wuester. Wuester, second from left, will become a teacher at Union High School in the fall. She is pictured with family members, Jennifer, Bryan and Matthew Wuester.
Simple Gifts scholar returns home, ready to give back

By Chase Jordan