Jessica Vega-Rogowicz Wants Students to Go to Carlow, Not Go to the Dermatologist to Treat Skin Cancer
Many universities' alumni create scholarships to encourage others to attend their alma mater, and so does the scholarship created by Carlow University alumna Jessica Vega-Rogowicz. It's what the scholarship tries to discourage that sets it apart.
"During my college years, I was unaware of the damaging effect of sun and tanning bed exposure," said Vega-Rogowicz, who graduated from Carlow in 2004 with a dual degree in elementary and special education. "I vacationed yearly at the beach and started using tanning beds while I was in college."
The "Jessica Vega-Rogowicz Miles Against Melanoma Scholarship" provides $1,000 for education majors to use for their studies. As part of the application process, students are asked to submit a lesson plan that teaches students how to be safe in the sun to avoid health hazards like melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
"I established a scholarship because I feel it is good to give back and help someone with his or her college expenses," said Vega-Rogowicz, who lives in Baldwin, Pa., and is a middle school teacher in the Hempfield School District. "I also hope to encourage a teacher or future teacher to think about how they might raise awareness of sun safety in their students."
Sun safety is crucially important to Vega-Rogowicz, as the cumulative effects of all that tanning caused her to be diagnosed, in 2006, with melanoma. She had a recurrence of melanoma in a different area in 2011.
"I thought I looked better with a tan, and I didn't think much about the health risks," she said. "In my early 20s, I thought I would live forever. I didn't realize that skin cancer could be deadly."
After her second diagnosis of melanoma, Vega-Rogowicz decided she wanted to spread awareness about the disease by forming a chapter of Miles Against Melanoma in the Pittsburgh area. "Miles Against Melanoma" is a nationwide non-profit organization whose mission is to fight melanoma by increasing awareness, by supporting patients, survivors and families, and by fundraising for research.
"Being part of something like Miles Against Melanoma helps you realize you are not the only one in the world who has had melanoma," she said.
During the Pittsburgh Chapter's inaugural year, the organization raised $25,000 through a dinner event, a golf outing, a wine tasting, and a 5k run/walk. The proceeds benefited the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. She hopes to grow the chapter even larger and spread awareness about sun safety. Her latest effort to get the word out is through establishing the scholarship at Carlow.
"When you are diagnosed with cancer, it hits you I have cancer and it makes a huge emotional impact," she said. "I had a lot of negative energy and I needed to channel it in a positive way. Establishing a scholarship is one more positive way that I can raise awareness about sun safety."