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My Gift Matters: Daughter overcomes the odds with mom’s help, then leaves amazing gift

My Gift Matters Cheryl Carmack

Cheryl Carmack, right, Della Mae Burns, center, and Cheryl's daughter Bri.

Della Mae Burns never went to college, or even high school. But what she taught her daughter about the value of education will resonate for generations of Illinois State students.

As the oldest child in her family, Della left school at a young age to take care of her siblings. Later, as a mother, Della worked several jobs to support her family. While Della valued education and hoped to earn her GED someday, her family and work were always her top priorities.

Della’s daughter, Cheryl Carmack, herself dropped out of high school in her final semester because of the long hours she was putting in at work, although thanks to her mother she never forgot the importance of higher education. Cheryl made it to Illinois State in her late 20s as a first-generation student.

Her mother’s example helped Cheryl juggle family, work, and college for over seven years to complete her B.S.N. in 2002 at Illinois State’s Mennonite College of Nursing. Cheryl also made time to get involved, serving as president of Illinois State’s Student Nurses’ Association, president of the Illinois Student Nurses Association, and a member of Mortar Board.

Cheryl worked as a cardiac nurse before returning to Illinois State as a nursing lab coordinator. While working on campus, she completed her master’s degree in 2012 and is now a nurse practitioner in Clinton.

Cheryl created the Della Mae Burns Scholarship to help first-generation students just like her. Here is Why My Gift Matters, in her own words:

What motivated you to give to Illinois State?

I wanted to honor my mother. She had always dreamed to go to school but was too poor. I wanted to share my mother’s legacy so students could be impacted every year.

What impact has Illinois State had on your life?

Illinois State allowed me to accomplish my goals. I was the first person in my family to go to college and receive a bachelor’s and master’s degree. I created friendships with faculty and staff that still exist today. My daughter is currently a senior at Illinois State, graduating this May. Illinois State is a special part of my life.

What would you say to ISU students today?

Reach out and get familiar with the resources that are available to you. Keep plugged in to campus and all that the University has to offer. Get to know the amazing faculty that genuinely cares about your success. Be thankful for the start Illinois State gives you.

Read more stories about the impact of giving on our students.