In 2006, she was working at a fast food restaurant, unable to dedicate more time to studying physics at Augusta State University. She nearly turned down a research position because she needed to work.
"The problem was money," said Andy Hauger, the chairman of the department of physics and chemistry. "She was being forced to choose mass production of ham sandwiches over working in an electronics lab."
The situation got him thinking, and by chance a scholarship came available. Ms. Sawyer quit working in fast food and began working in the lab.
More students will have similar opportunities through a $600,000 grant announced Monday.
Automatic Data Processing Inc., awarded the money to Augusta State, Augusta Technical College and Paine College as part of a three-year program to address the critical shortage of graduates in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, and the shortage of teachers in those fields.
The ADP Scholars Program is expected to fund 90 scholarships among the institutions over the next three years.
Ms. Sawyer's scholarship was for only one semester, but she plans to apply for one of the ADP scholarships so she can cut back on work and complete her studies.
"I get an average of three to four hours of sleep a night," she said after leaving work Monday. "Physics is very demanding."
The funding from ADP will also expand tutoring and academic support for students and provide professional development for staff members.
"By offering the direct student support through scholarships and programmatic enhancements, we believe that we can increase the retention and graduation rates of STEM majors, many of whom will stay in the local areas to teach and to work in the surrounding industries," Augusta State Vice President of Academic Affairs Samuel Sullivan said Monday during a news conference at ADP, calling the partnership a "real signature moment in Augusta's history."
In December, the university established four goals, including an increase in its graduates in math, science, and math and science education to 15 percent of its total graduates.
ASU President William A. Bloodworth Jr. said the grant will allow the university to meet and perhaps exceed that goal.
ADP opened a site in Augusta a year ago and is preparing to move into a new $40 million facility on Flowing Wells Road later this month.
At the news conference, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said the greatest investment in infrastructure is one in human infrastructure.
Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.