Friday, June 14 is a day Delia (Deedee) Grantham is unlikely to ever forget. That’s because it’s the day the 19-year-old Ohio University student, who just finished her freshman year as a first generation college attendee, heard she won a life-changing scholarship from Top Hat worth $50,000.

Having escaped a dysfunctional home in her mid-teens, Grantham worked five days a week before and during her first year of higher ed to be able to afford tuition and everything else that comes with being a student. Yet despite the challenges in her personal life, she showed determination and hard work in her classes, looking to excel in subjects she’d previously struggled with and leaning on in-class technologies like Top Hat to get her there.

She exceeded even her own wildest expectations, inspiring her professor, Anne Perez, to nominate her for a Top Hat scholarship. As the scholarship’s first-place winner and an in-state student, Grantham, who’s studying to be a social worker, will use the money to focus on her studies and extracurriculars without having to worry about the burdens of tuition payments. “Last year was so stressful to constantly be thinking about how I’m going to make ends meet and make my payments,” she says. “Now that I know I’m going to be able to afford the rest of college, I don’t have to give up on something I’ve always dreamed of. It’s the best feeling in the world.”

Early struggles

Hailing from Bexley, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, Grantham had a toxic family life that forced her to leave home at the age of 14. No one in her immediate family was a college graduate and of her four biological siblings, she’s the only one to graduate high school. “Early on, I saw the terrible path my parents went down,” she says. “My biggest fear is ever ending up like them.”

Grantham eventually landed in the custody of her best friend’s parents, though throughout her journey between homes, the most stable force in her life was her social worker, Lavita: “Every time she visited, she made sure I was provided for and doing well mentally and academically.” Because of that support, Grantham was able to graduate from high school and was inspired to enter college for social work. “Nothing left me feeling more accomplished than when I walked across the stage at high school graduation,” she says. “I knew that in order to be able to help people, I needed to go to college.”

In-class help

In order to pursue her bachelor’s degree in social work, Grantham realized she’d need to take a freshman year biology course—a subject she barely passed in high school. She knew she’d need to study harder than ever even to get a C grade (required for her social work major) but was delighted to find help in an unlikely place once she got to class. Her professor was using Top Hat in her Human Biology course. Grantham credits this with helping her build confidence and excel in class, eventually allowing her to obtain a grade of B+.

“During lectures, Dr. Perez would use Top Hat to ask questions to see if we were understanding the material,” Grantham says. “Not only did this help me realize if I needed to get extra help, but when I saw that other students also struggled with the material, it made me feel more confident in myself.” Grantham praised Top Hat for the engagement it built between students and also for its affordability, which allowed her to learn in a cost effective way.

Scholarship win

More than just helping Grantham to get through college without amassing a mountain of student debt, the Top Hat scholarship is also providing her the chance to scale back the working hours she put in during her freshman year (by her count, upwards of 20 a week) in order to take part in the extracurricular activities she needs to prepare her for a career in social work. “There were multiple clubs and volunteer opportunities that I couldn’t do because I worked every single week,” Grantham says. “I’m looking forward to helping people and serving meals and doing the afterschool things I saw my classmates get to do.”

Chris Ament, the Chief Information Officer at Ohio University, was also thrilled by Grantham’s win. “We get a lot of positive feedback about Top Hat and it’s great to see a vendor and a partner give back,” he says. “Deedee’s story is one that’s pretty common here—we have a large number of first generation students—so her win sends a message to everyone with similar circumstances that you have this opportunity and that your challenges are acknowledged and recognized.”

Learn more about the Top Hat Scholarship here and you can read about the second place winner, Emma Rice here.