In the quest for high-tech knowledge, a single dad finds a path to a better life, for himself and his son
As a single father, Jeremiah Walters juggled jobs as a bartender and an Uber driver with the often-exhausting everyday responsibilities of raising his son. He weathered a spate of homelessness, financial instability and humbling appeals for help along the way. Then he decided to make a change.
One of 10 inaugural recipients of a UW Certificate Scholarship, Jeremiah knew that education was the path to a better life for him and now 11-year-old Jameel.
With a Harvard- and UW-educated father and a librarian mother, Jeremiah and his six siblings grew up understanding the value of going to college. Jeremiah set his sights on an engineering degree at a private school in Florida after graduating from Seattle’s Garfield High School, only to see his college career cut short by financial issues after just one semester.
He returned to Seattle and took some business courses at local community colleges — until fatherhood came his way.
“I was young, and I became more concerned about making money than continuing my education,” Jeremiah recalls. “My dad had been away from the family a lot while he was going to school. I didn’t want that for my son.”
Serving up drinks and conversation over the next decade to high-tech workers from companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Expedia, Jeremiah listened intently as they talked about their work. Inspired, he began saving to enroll in an intensive four-month training program to become a computer coder.
“I felt I had to do more. I wanted to learn, learn, learn. I wanted to work smarter, not harder,” recounts Jeremiah, who doubled up on bartending shifts to save enough money for the full-time coding program.
It’s not easy to go back to school when you’re a working adult. This scholarship meant I didn’t have to worry as much about how I was going to support my family at the same time as learning what I needed to learn.— Jeremiah Walters
But he couldn’t save quite enough, and he and Jameel wound up sofa-surfing among friends or renting a cheap spare room in a stranger’s house. It was a tough time, “but I thought it was important for my son to see me with my spirits up and my eyes on a goal,” Jeremiah says.
When he found himself still $4,000 short on tuition for the program, he swallowed his pride and established a GoFundMe page that somehow caught the attention of a local e-commerce executive. After one informal coffee meeting, the exec offered to pay Jeremiah’s tuition in exchange for a four-month internship once the new coder graduated.
The internship lasted just two months before the company, Mercutio, offered Jeremiah a full-time job that has further stirred the ambitions of the newly minted high-tech worker.
“My job was front-end development, but I saw and heard other people at work talking about how they’re driving decisions and it’s all based on data analysis,” he explains. That's when he found the UW Certificate in Data Analytics.
The certificate program would broaden Jeremiah’s skills and career potential. But after just barely getting back on his feet, he couldn’t afford it. Luckily, he saw the opportunity for a scholarship. When he got the call that he'd been selected as one of 10 recipients, he felt his plans coming together.
The UW Certificate Scholarship made his next steps in life possible. Even so, that path was not without its challenges.
“I experienced imposter syndrome, that voice in my head telling me that maybe the tech world was not for me and that I should just go back to serving drinks and driving Uber,” he says. “I had to fight through that mental challenge. The scholarship helped with that.”
Because of the scholarship, Jeremiah felt supported, both financially and emotionally.
“It’s not easy to go back to school when you’re a working adult,” he says. “This scholarship meant I didn’t have to worry as much about how I was going to support my family at the same time as learning what I needed to learn. I felt like someone was standing behind me, saying we want to support you on your journey — we’re rooting for you. That affects how you show up and how far you take it.”
After completing his program, Jeremiah began an apprenticeship and has been an Azure Cloud Engineer with Microsoft for two years, presenting business justifications for process improvements that impact Microsoft teams around the globe.
Now, Jeremiah is exploring the idea of returning to the UW to do a part-time degree in electrical engineering.
You can help open the door to opportunity for other students like Jeremiah.