Southwest Towers (East Tower)

Ed & Fern Scholarship Fund Highlight - Madison Rinehart

News | Published: October 31, 2022

Words cannot express my gratitude to Ed and Fern Hamel for the opportunity to earn my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. After many years of studying, four-hour long critiques, lengthy lectures, and endlessly perfecting letter and line spacing, I finally did it!

Following high school, I was confident I wanted to be an artist. However, being a realist, I knew I couldn't make a living attempting to sell images I didn't want to part with because I had poured my heart and soul into the work. I researched how to become a tattoo artist but soon realized it would require working weekends, and I would never forgive myself if I accidentally made a mistake someone else would have to live with forever. Firmly set on keeping my weekends and leveraging my Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I discovered graphic design was my dream career and resolved to become a Designer no matter how great the challenge.

Growing up in an "earn it yourself" family, I chose to attend Harford Community College (HCC). I realized I had my work cut out for me. I used my high school savings from working at Subway and paid tuition for my first semester at HCC. I was responsible for phone bills, car insurance, food, gas, and other essentials, and I didn't have much leftover for my next term. As a full-time college student, I worked as often as I did, attending school, studying, and doing homework. I stayed on top of my grades and made enough money to support myself and pay tuition. While it was difficult, I felt more accomplished putting in the hard work for myself and my career.

My time at HCC was fantastic; I met the man of my dreams in English and adored my classes. I studied psychology, English, art history, and contemporary dance. I applied the skills I studied to my design work and appreciated my professors, who genuinely cared and provided the best learning experience possible for all their students. I felt welcomed and valued at HCC. It was familiar and close to home.

After graduating from HCC with my associate degree, I struggled to find a position accepting designers with minimal experience. At the time, I believed I had learned everything about graphic design. After all, I had two years’ worth of information about the topic. I continued working at the restaurant and, for months, applied for job after job with no response. I was feeling defeated. My community college offered no additional opportunities, and I couldn't afford a bachelor’s degree. Landing a job as a graphic designer seemed impossible. Until my stepfather shared the most fantastic news. He told me about The Ed and Fern Hamel Scholarship Program at Hamel Builders. If I qualified, I could attend the school of my choice, essentially entirely paid for.

Conflicted with the amazing offer to help, I sat on my bedroom floor and cried. I had worked for everything in my life, and it felt wrong to accept such a generous gift. Here were two strangers offering to provide me with my hopes and dreams – out of the kindness of their hearts. I thought it was a prank or something of the sort. After a few days of thinking it over, I decided to move forward.

I chose to attend Towson University. Towson has an outstanding Graphic Design program, and with the scholarship, I only paid for Adobe Creative Cloud and books. I lived at home, commuted to school every day, worked at the restaurant, and didn't need a student loan.

My first day at Towson was overwhelming and intimidating. The school was larger, and I had more professors for the same subjects. Even though HCC felt more personalized, the variety of teachers at Towson expanded my knowledge. Some teachers loved typography, others loved color, yet each professor's opinion taught me the versatility in the Graphic Design world. I realized I had much more to learn, and the teachers pushed me out of my comfort zone. My classmates and I had to present our design work to Art Directors representing major companies brought in from the school. I worked two internships within my field and completed many projects. Towson taught me about my trade, how to master it, and what is expected of me as a professional.

Gaining my first job as a Graphic Designer is both exhilarating and bittersweet. In December 2021, I graduated from Towson, and, after working as an intern, I was offered a position with Exponential Media, a digital marketing and design agency based in Baltimore, Maryland. I hope to one day own my business as a graphic designer and freelancer. I know achieving this goal will be hard work, but I am eager and excited to tackle my goals and the many challenges ahead. I am publishing my design website and marketing myself to secure clients as a Brand Manager and Graphic Designer.

Today, I am a confident professional Graphic Designer because Ed and Fern Hamel blessed me with the opportunity to attend Towson University and achieve my bachelor’s degree. Their financial support enabled me to pursue my degree debt free. While I don't want to say that I wouldn't have achieved my goals without them, I had a much easier time finding my way because of their incredible gift.

I am living the life I’ve always dreamed about. I am teaching myself how to use power tools, build furniture, cook intricate recipes, and even do handyman work – like putting shiplap on walls and fixing faulty sinks.

Remember the man of my dreams I met in my English class at Harford Community College? He proposed, and we plan to marry in September 2023. We purchased and are transforming our first home and happily live with our two dogs, Harley, and Tater.

I feel blessed to have accomplished the goals I set for myself. I'm proud of my hard work and determination. I am grateful for the incredible opportunities I've been able to seize. I love the life I've created and the outstanding, kind, generous, and compassionate Hamel duo who helped along the way. I am grateful for the support of my fiancé, my professors, my stepfather, Rob Lesniewski, and my siblings. They have inspired me to be the best version of myself every day, to never give up, and to know it's okay to accept a helping hand.

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