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Early College helps sets course for a medical career

Written by
Stephen Mease

March 23, 2022


Samantha Hadvab

The future looks bright for 22-year-old Samantha Hadvab: She’s ready to graduate from the University of Vermont this spring with a degree in medical radiation sciences, and she already has a job offer waiting for her at the Lafayette Family Cancer Institute in Brewer, Maine, where she’s finishing up an internship she’s truly enjoyed.

But as a young, troubled girl growing up in Benson, Vt., Sam had such a rough start that few believed she could make much of her life. 

Benson is a tiny rural town that most people, even in Vermont, have never heard of. In Rutland County, it has a reputation for being poor and disadvantaged, even a little bit backward.

“When I was in middle school, lots of people said, ‘Oh, really? This girl from Benson wants to go to college?’” Sam recalls.

While the judgment stung, it made her even more determined to prove them wrong, even though fate had dealt the Hadvab family an especially difficult hand. After a severe car accident in 2003, when Sam was just three years old, her dad was left permanently disabled and unable to work. Having lost part of his foot, he had to learn to walk again, and his modified gait has led to hip and back issues that have had him in and out of hospitals ever since. The stress of his initial recovery took a toll on the family, and Sam’s parents divorced in 2005. Sam and her younger sister grew up in poverty.  

“Our family was in a really tough financial situation,” she recalls. “I remember my dad not having enough money to pay the bills. I remember thinking, I don’t want my kids to have to live like this. I’ll do whatever is necessary to be successful.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Sam’s vision for success turned to the medical field at a young age. “As a kid, I spent a lot of time in hospitals and at doctors’ appointments. My dad was in a constant battle with his recovery and chronic pain, and he told me, ‘Sam, you should help people in pain, so they don’t have to suffer like me.’ At that time, I decided that I wanted to become a doctor to help people like my dad.”

Sam worked hard in school, with academics offering a welcome respite from her stressful home life, where she took on a lot of responsibility as the oldest child of a disabled single parent. “My outlet was school,” she says.

Within her family, Sam found the most support from her grandmother. “Grandma always believed in me, no matter what. And she would always tell me how she was accepted to college and wanted nothing more than to go, but her family didn’t have the money to send her. Therefore, her dream was for me to go to college.”

Sam shared that aspiration and carried it with her every day. “I never had a thought in my mind that I wasn’t going to college. It wasn’t an option, it was necessary,” she says. And she would share that goal with anyone who would listen.

“I remember walking into Fair Haven Union High School on the first day and telling my academic advisor, ‘I want to graduate early because I want to go to med school and I need to get this done ASAP,’” Sam laughs. “My options were graduating a year early or doing Early College and getting a year of college for free. Therefore, I pursued the Early College trajectory” and attended VTSU Castleton as a high school senior.

By that time, she’d been accepted to UVM, and she wanted to take her pre-med classes there. So, at Castleton, she took time to explore her interests, taking courses in effective speaking, diversity, computer science, calculus, philosophy, psychology, and child development.

While attending VTSU Castleton, Sam was able to mend her relationship with her mom, from whom she received the utmost support. “Despite the adversity, I was facing and the stress of being a high school senior and first-year college student, my mom was always there to support me and make sure that I knew I could do anything I set my mind to. She and my stepdad offered the support I needed to pursue my dreams.”

As a first-generation student, the college application process “was stressful, to say the least. I had no idea what I was doing,” Sam recalls. “I relied on my high school advisor and Tia Stillman,” the VSAC counselor she’d worked with through the GEAR UP program since seventh grade.

“Tia was phenomenal. She would meet with me and make sure I had everything in line with my goals. I told her exactly what I wanted, and she made it happen. If I ever had any questions, I just emailed Tia and she got right back to me. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her,” Sam says.

Stillman herself isn’t sure she agrees with that assessment. “When I think about Sam, I think about motivation. She’s an incredibly motivated student who has the drive and determination to go after what she wants, rise above, and be successful.”

Sam also received financial assistance from VSAC, which, she says, covered a substantial portion of her college costs. “I’ve received numerous amounts in scholarships and grants, which I’m so grateful for. They’ve made my college experience much less stressful by taking away some of the financial burdens. If it hadn’t been for VSAC, I wouldn’t have been able to attend college.”

When Sam comes home from her internship in May for her UVM graduation, she plans to take a couple of years “off” in the working world before going on to medical school. “I’d like to pay off some of my bachelor’s-degree loans and continue working as a radiation therapist. I love my job and the field that I’m currently in,” she says, noting that she’s always thought that radiation therapy could make a solid career if the medical school didn’t end up working out.

She loves the friends and coworkers she’s made in Maine this semester and is seriously considering accepting the job offer at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center. Then again, she says, she’s always wanted to go somewhere warm, so part of her is thinking about a west-coast move.

Either way, her plans are in line with the advice she’s always given to encourage her younger sisters — Britney, now 19, and Kiara, now 15, with whom she’s very close. “I always wanted to show them that there’s a whole world out there — and that you can grow up in Benson and achieve your goals at the same time.”

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This story is produced by Vermont Student Assistance Corp., created by the Vermont Legislature in 1965 as a public nonprofit agency, to advocate for Vermont students and their families to ensure that they achieve their education goals. Our vision is to create opportunities for all Vermont students, but particularly for those—of any age—who believe that the doors to higher education are closed to them. We begin by helping families save for education with Vermont’s state-sponsored 529 savings program. To help Vermonters plan and pay for college or career training, our counselors work with students in nearly every Vermont middle school and high school, and again as adults. Our grant and scholarship programs attract national recognition, and our loan programs and loan forgiveness programs are saving Vermont families thousands of dollars in interest.