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Mount Holyoke College professor Becky Wai-Ling Packard uses father’s memory as inspiration to help others

MassLive.com logo MassLive.com 12/24/2021 Ron Chimelis, masslive.com
Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College, carries a photo of her late father, Roland C. Packard. © Leon Nguyen | hnguyen/@repub.com Becky Wai-Ling Packard, professor of psychology and education at Mount Holyoke College, carries a photo of her late father, Roland C. Packard.

SOUTH HADLEY — Every time a college student gets a boost from the Roland C. Packard Memorial Scholarship Fund, the Vietnam veteran’s daughter feels her father’s hard work and legacy are honored yet again.

“He’d been drafted and served, and he felt he could not go back to finish college. He had 62 credits, but not the credentials (of graduation),” says Becky Wai-Ling Packard, who created the scholarship in her father’s name at the beginning of 2021.

If Roland Packard was not to have that chance, he was determined that his children would. One son became an engineer. Another is a physical therapist.

Becky Wai-Ling Packard is a professor of education and psychology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, and her focus is on inclusiveness for Black, Indigenous and people of color, as well as for marginalized students who face obstacles of poverty and backgrounds that are nontraditional for college students.

Packard said her father always felt the pressure and frustration of a ceiling on those people — himself included — who could not finish college.

“My father worked for Campell Soup Co. He’d work with grocery stores, look at their shelf space and so on,” Packard said.

“Anyone who worked for Campbell Soup had scholarship eligibility. That’s how I was able to go,” said Packard, who grew up in Michigan, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and her doctorate from Michigan State University.

The scholarship in her father’s name is administered through the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts, a go-to organization for scholarship and funding aid. Fifteen years after her father died at 61 — “too young an age,” his daughter recalls — his memory is still helping students attain the goals he felt were beyond his reach, but not his children’s.

“He met my mother in Hong Kong, and he sponsored her to come to the United States. They married and had us. He worked very hard — he was very good, working with his hands — but he always faced limited job opportunities and many avenues were never in his grasp,” Packard said.

“A priority of the scholarship fund is for community college students,” she said. “We want to help nontraditional students, those with low-income backgrounds and first-generation collegians.”

The quote in Packard’s college biography speaks volumes. It reads, “You come from a particular neighborhood and you write off certain options. But then someone sees potential in you and helps you to turn everything around.”

Because Packard is herself a first-generation college graduate, she is especially sensitive to helping provide those options. She also said that when scholarships needs are addressed, many people still mistakenly think only of pathways to four-year schools, not two-year institutions that give students a start — and a chance.

Packard has made the assistance to first-generation students a personal priority, even in her work at Mount Holyoke and certainly through the scholarship fund.

In 22 years at Mount Holyoke, she has served as associate dean of faculty, founding director of the Teaching and Learning Initiative, and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership. She is devoted to seeing first-generation college students, women and persons of color use the value of mentoring to succeed in education and the workforce.

Being a biracial person herself gives her insight, as does the memory of her father, whose life story convinced her that the best way to remember him was through a scholarship that lifts others up.

“In many ways, my parents had a hard life as they took care of us,” Packard said. “The Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts has a huge scholarship portfolio and I am proud to be part of it, and give first-generation college students, and persons of color, the chance they deserve for success.”

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