Receiving a scholarship is a game changer for many college students – it means less pressure in paying off loans and more money for living expenses, books and school supplies.

But for Elshaddai White, a 26-year-old Ready Reserve gate agent in Atlanta, receiving the Delta Spirit Award from the Scholarship Fund for the 2015-16 school year means even more. Inspired by his great uncle who was diagnosed with cancer 10 years ago, White is pursuing his PhD in cancer biology with the goal of finally finding a cure for the disease.

Launched in 2008, The Delta Scholarship Fund is an employee-led nonprofit organization that has awarded more than $4 million in scholarships to employees and their eligible family members who are pursuing further education. This year, Delta will offer over $1 million in awards, a record-breaking amount for the airline.

Delta News Network interviewed White a year into his PhD program to discuss how he juggles work and school, what the Scholarship Fund means to him and who motivates him to continue his education.

Delta News Hub: What degree are you pursuing and what interests you about this field?

EW: I’m pursuing a PhD in cancer biology. I’ve always been interested in the field of biology, but what really motivated me was my great uncle, who was particularly responsible for my upbringing. He was diagnosed with cancer about 10 years ago and passed from the disease. Since then, in his honor, I’ve wanted to help find a cure or preventative method for cancer.  After completing school several years from now, I intend to work with a university to continue my research.

DNH: What’s the most challenging aspect of juggling school and work?

EW: I think the most difficult part about being a working student is the time management piece. At Delta, if something comes up with school, I’ll have to work with my coworkers to swap shifts. Pursuing a PhD, you don’t really have a set schedule. You work on your research and keep working on until you get the right results. It’s very different than undergrad. It’s all about keeping on top of things and avoiding procrastination.

DNH: When you’re not at Delta or at school, what are you up to?

EW: I’m in the books – I’m also an instructor at Atlanta Metropolitan State College where I teach biology.

DNH: How would you explain to someone the importance of donating to the Scholarship Fund?

EW: Scholarships help people like me go back to school and pursue higher degrees. I’ve donated to the Scholarship Fund ever since I first started at Delta because the money is going to someone who needs it.

DNH: What advice would you give to others interested in furthering their education?

EW: Just do it. I think the biggest obstacle we have is fear – we think of all the things that may be in the way, but at the end of the day, your fate is in your own hands. Whatever happens, you can make it work. You just have to be organized and have good time management. Don’t get discouraged.

DNH: Who inspires you to keep going and pursue your PhD?

EW: In a nutshell, my family. They’ve always encouraged me to do the very best that I possibly can and to never give up on my dreams and aspirations. They keep me going and constantly make me want to achieve better things.

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