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Building a Better Life

Washburn’s Women’s Alliance legacy grows

Deyjah Cardenas posing with her graduation shawl

DeyJa Cardenas shows off her graduation stole in preperation of her December 2022 commencement. Photo by Jeremy Wangler 

From Bell Tower - 2022 
By Annie Flachsbarth

When DeyJa Cardenas fled Denver, Colorado, to escape her abusive boyfriend, attending college was the absolute last thing on her mind. Cardenas quietly left her home in the middle of the night with her infant daughter, her mother and her sister.

“We didn’t know where we were going to stop or sleep, but we knew this was our one chance to get away and build a better life,” Cardenas said.

And with the help of the Washburn Women’s Alliance, that’s exactly what Cardenas did.

A Growing Legacy

Cardenas and her family eventually arrived in Topeka and lived in a hotel while they took shifts caring for her baby and fixing up a house to live in – her mother owned a construction company so they all knew the trade. During this time, Cardenas decided to get her GED.

“My teacher offered to pay for my final test if I did a campus tour at Washburn University, and I really liked it,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas learned she was able to afford to go to school by receiving scholarships from WWA. WWA is an organization that was started more than 30 years ago by a group of women donors who specifically wanted to support single parent, non-traditional students. These scholarships are lifesaving to single parents trying to return to college to finish their degrees. WWA has given away more than $1.5 million since its inception, and the support WWA provides doesn’t just change the lives of those students – it changes the course of their entire family trees.

For Cardenas, the scholarship meant being able to spend more time on what mattered most to her.

“That first scholarship allowed me to move out of my mom’s house. It gave me independence that I didn’t know that I could have at that point. Being a single mom, being so young, going to school full time, and fully taking care of my grandpa – as that’s what we do in my culture – I didn’t have time for full-time a job,” Cardenas said.

As Washburn’s WWA President Janice Watkins, ba ’05, shared, the organization awarded a record number of 42 scholarships to students much like Cardenas in 2022. She also notes that their scholarship is somewhat unique, in that it provides not just tuition assistance, but can also be used for housing, daycare, or day-to-day expenses – vital flexibility for single parents like Cardenas. Or like Watkins herself, who was a 4-year WWA scholarship recipient herself and knows firsthand how crucial the WWA scholarship can be for a single parent.

“Thanks to WWA, I was able to not have to worry about childcare, and I came out of school with a lot less student debt than I should have,” Watkins said. “I hope more students can come out of college in the same situation.”

The impact WWA has on students like Cardenas is continuing to grow. This year, alumna Doris Baker Mayfield, ba ’52, left the organization a surprise estate gift of more than $400,000 – the largest gift in WWA’s history, and one that will help many students, like Cardenas, find success. Mayfield’s nephew, Robert Baker, shared that the donation to her alma mater was no surprise.

“Our aunt was very strong on education – she was always finding unique ways to enlighten us,” Baker said. “She also saw a need to use her resources to look after women, and it would only make sense that she would go back to her own university to make that happen.”

Watkins noted the gift will be put to very good use.

“Every year we receive more and more applications from single parents seeking financial support,” said Watkins. “Doris’ gift will allow us to make a larger impact.”

A Whole New World

Deyjah Cardenas hugs her daughterNow, Cardenas is doing great. After having received the WWA scholarship all four years, she’s preparing to graduate in December, with a degree in communications and business. Her daughter, N'ioMae, is home-schooled and loves being a part of such a tightknit family with multiple generations nearby. She credits much of their success to the help she received from the WWA.

“I can’t tell you how much the support from WWA helped us,” Cardenas said. “I mean, we were living in a neighborhood where drivebys happened every day, and now I’m getting ready to graduate with honors!”

Soon, Cardenas plans to start a construction company for immigrants – and hopes to one day follow in the footsteps of great women like Watkins and Mayfield and the entire WWA community. Maybe one day she’ll even help another girl in need build a new life for herself, and perhaps she herself can be an example that it can be done.

Ichabod Bench


Remembering Doris Baker Mayfield

Doris MayfieldMayfield was born in Milltown, New Jersey, on Oct. 10, 1930. Her family moved to Tonganoxie, Kansas, and she grew up in the Lawrence and Topeka area. After graduating from Washburn in 1952, she settled with her family in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She married, never had any children and was widowed at a relatively young age – but she never slowed down.

She was a big fan of the Washburn Women’s Alliance, because one of the values she lived her life by was being a fiercely independent woman, just like so many of the WWA scholarship recipients. A scientist at heart, she majored in mathematics and was passionate about biology. She was a fierce environmentalist, world traveler and an adventurer – and she instilled her love for life in all of her nieces and nephews – leaving an impact that will carry on for generations.

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1729 MacVicar Avenue
Topeka, KS 66604 Phone: 785.670.4483