A lesson in the sun

by Jan Gillis ('07)

Ericka Welsh, Madison Forever scholarship recipient
Ericka Welsh is interested in working in humanitarian law. Last summer, as Ericka Welsh ('13) toiled in the Nicaraguan sun, she realized something

Madison Forever made a huge difference for Ericka Welsh, and she's determined to make a difference for others
By Martha Graham

Last summer, as Ericka Welsh ('13) toiled in the Nicaraguan sun, she realized something important.

The Madison Forever Scholarship recipient and senior psychology major from Suffolk, Va., was part of a team working with Because We Care ministries. The team from her Harrisonburg church had traveled to Nicaragua to serve the people there. They worked in the fields to cultivate food for neighboring villages, distributed food and clothing, and interacted with Nicaraguans.

"I realized what a passion I have for serving someone else while I was in Nicaragua. I remember being in that field, trying to cultivate the ground, plant things in that Nicaraguan heat. It had to have been 110 degrees. It felt really hot. But we were working hard. It was the most peaceful and fulfilled I've ever felt in my life. I had zero agricultural skills, so it wasn't at all that I was doing a great job.… I realized how fulfilling it can be to work hard, not for yourself, but for someone else."

Serving others is now a mission for Ericka who hopes to someday study law. She is interested in working in humanitarian law, possibly for a human rights group or a nonprofit. She is interested in being an advocate or working for policy changes. To reach that goal, she also understands how important her education is.

She does not take it for granted.

At the beginning of her freshman year, she says, "I was a little unsure about everything. It didn't take long to get used to it. By halfway through my freshman year, I knew this is exactly where I was supposed to be."

"My parent saw how much I loved it here, how much I was growing and learning," she says. "I'd gotten to love JMU more and more."

Still, she says, "finances have been a consistent stress in my life." To supplement her tuition and rent, beginning her sophomore year, Ericka worked in special events at the Festival and now works in Carrier Library.

Ericka also works as a peer advisor for other psychology students, and she's on the moot court team with the political science department. She is also a research assistant for the Cultural and Racial Diversity Lab. Most of her spare time, she admits, is academic related.

In the process, she's learned to appreciate what's important. "I've realized as I've been here how valuable my education has been—not just solely my degree but experiences I've had, everything that college has been to me. I really couldn't put a price on that."

"It's a struggle, yeah," she says. "Part of how much I've grown as a person her at JMU is realizing that life isn't going to be without struggles. I'm able to wake up every day and go to class, see my friends, and know 100 percent that it is completely worth it."

Madison Forever has made a huge difference for her. "JMU really cares about students. Madison Forever shows we matter to them."

Someday, Ericka hopes to make the same kind of difference in another's life. "As cliche as it sounds, I do want to help people. One thing I've realized over the past two years of working really hard academically in my classes is that in the end working for yourself, for your own betterment, there's not a lot fulfillment in that. I'm not sure what capacity it's going to be in, but I just want to live my life serving someone else."

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Published: Thursday, March 1, 2012

Last Updated: Thursday, October 20, 2016

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