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Linda, Sophia and Matthew Wiernusz

Two months before she enrolled at Curry College, the school was not yet on the radar of Sophia Wiernusz '23. The Collegeville, Pa., resident had plans to attend another college when she learned in late June of 2019 that the school had dropped its tennis program.

The following day, Sophia submitted six new applications, while her parents, Linda and Matthew, contacted admissions offices and tennis coaches. They were looking for a place where Sophia could study nursing and compete in intercollegiate athletics, somewhere that also boasted a strong academic support system. Once the Wiernusz family visited the Curry campus and learned about the Program for Advancement of Learning (PAL), they knew it was a match.

“When I got to Curry, they pulled out a tri-fold pamphlet of every program,” says Sophia, who was diagnosed with dyslexia as a child. “You could tell by their answers about what they offered to students with [learning] disabilities that they were the real deal.”

Through her own intelligence and hard work, and with support from her parents and PAL, Sophia is thriving at Curry. In addition to maintaining a 3.95 GPA, she is entering her second year as captain of the Curry women’s tennis team and serves as a peer tutor in subjects ranging from microbiology to pathophysiology. She is collaborating with Associate Dean of Nursing Nicholas Green and Associate Professor of Nursing Karen Doherty to launch a mentoring program that pairs older students with incoming nursing majors. Sophia is also a recent recipient of the Justin Hughes Scholarship, awarded annually to a deserving PAL student.

Matthew Wiernusz speaks of his daughter’s boundless potential, her lifelong desire to be a nurse, and how her dyslexia has taught her to become an advocate for herself. Curry, he says, has bolstered Sophia’s best qualities and increased her self-confidence.

“I have seen the leadership growth in her,” says Matthew. “Curry is helping her — and PAL is helping her — to achieve what has always been inside her. They tell her being dyslexic is an asset, not a disability. It has taught her to learn differently, work hard, and manage her time. PAL is reinforcing everything by supporting her.”

Because of that support, the Wiernusz family has joined the 1879 Planned Giving Society, making Curry a beneficiary of their estate plans. The gift will be earmarked specifically for PAL so that students like Sophia can continue to benefit from the resources that have been so instrumental to her success. Having a learning challenge has never been an excuse, echoes Sophia’s mother, Linda, who is also dyslexic. But knowing that the office of disability services is there as a resource gives her great comfort.

“She owns her learning difference,” says Linda, an optician. “Had I had the same opportunities and support as Sophia, I would have gone to nursing school. Having that all there at Curry for her to excel in her dream is amazing.”

Giving back is not a new experience for the Wiernusz family. Years ago, Linda’s father, Dr. Leon E. Kehr, established a scholarship at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine, and his daughter continues to donate to the fund. Establishing a gift to benefit Curry students in the future not only honors Dr. Kehr’s legacy but also the legacy Sophia is building through her own leadership. For now, Sophia appreciates the opportunity to take advantage of the best of both worlds, a quiet suburban campus with easy access to Boston and its first-class medical centers. Her post-graduation goal is to secure a job in a cardiac ICU unit, while applying to doctor of nurse anesthesia programs.

“What I love about Curry is that they look at you as a person, not a number,” Sophia says. “Leaving behind something that is tangible and sustainable for the college is a wonderful feeling.”