New social work scholarship named after 67-year-old recent UI graduate

The Bernadine Franks Scholarship Fund was established in honor of the challenges faced and overcome by the recent UI School of Social Work graduate.


Josie Fischels, News Reporter

A new scholarship available for students in the School of Social Work is in the fundraising stage of development following the graduation of 67-year-old Bernadine Franks.

Franks accepted her diploma from the University of Iowa Social Work School in December 2018, fulfilling a 50-year-old promise she made to her mother that she would graduate from college.

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Her accomplishment was preceded by years of challenges, from becoming pregnant when she was only 14 to battling and overcoming drug and alcohol abuse in the midst of searching for a job and raising a family.

Franks’ decision to make good on her promise and attend the UI also came with its challenges. The 67-year-old grandmother recalled sitting in classes with pencil and paper while surrounded by younger students taking notes on laptops, but her age never deterred her from reaching her goal.

“The promise I made to my mom was the big motivator,” she said. “So despite all of the challenges, giving up did not cross my mind, especially the closer I got to achieving the goal.”

Franks’ accomplishments have gained her national attention. She appeared live on the “Today Show” with her granddaughter, Meganne, on Jan. 4 to share her story with the world.

During her interview, the “Today Show” surprised Franks by officially announcing the Social Work School’s decision to establish the Bernadine Franks Scholarship, which will support nontraditional, underrepresented students similar to Franks in the future.

It’s so inspiring to know that it’s never too late to turn your life around, to keep a promise, to accomplish your goals.

— Jen Knights

Dana Larson, the executive director of communication and marketing at the UI Center for Advancement, said the fund had been set up beforehand and was officially announced live to surprise Franks.

Larson said people inspired by Franks’ story are now able to donate to the fund by going to the Center of Advancement’s website.

“Really, any amount people give is going to help a student. And particularly in this case, it’s going to help a nontraditional, underrepresented student,” she said. “Even if a scholarship just covers a portion of your tuition or your textbooks, all of that helps.”

Jen Knights, the marketing, community, and engagement specialist at the Social Work School, said having a student such as Franks in the classroom was beneficial not only for the 67-year-old but for many of the other students as well.

“It’s not very often that you have a student like Bernadine, who comes in as an undergrad but is so demographically different from the greater population of undergrads,” she said. “It was incredibly valuable. It’s not a thing that we went out and looked for or curated. Nontraditional students contribute to the classroom in a way that no one else can.”

Knights said the Social Work School hopes to be able to award the scholarship by next semester and potentially grow it enough to make it an endowed scholarship that will benefit students similar to Franks well into the future.

“It’s so inspiring to know that it’s never too late to turn your life around, to keep a promise, to accomplish your goals,” she said. “It means that all of us are still at a point in our lives where anything can happen.”