Scholarships: Every Student Lives a Different Story

Four students talk about scholarship aid

Scholarship gifts to St. Thomas are the most direct way a donor can help the university provide an education for thousands of deserving students. Last year’s gifts resulted in $4,542,267 in scholarships for a very diverse student body. Diverse — yet every freshman shares at least one common bond: They all receive financial aid, in amounts ranging from $200 up to $24,000.

There are more than 11,000 undergraduate and graduate students who attend St. Thomas — each with his or her own unique story. For example, meet Rebekah McDaniel, who graduated from St. Thomas in May 2001 with a degree in accounting.

McDaniel’s mother died of cancer during spring break of her sophomore year. McDaniel’s father also had died of cancer, so her mother ’s death was especially difficult. She is the oldest of three girls and felt torn between finishing her education and caring for her two younger sisters.

Her story could have turned out much differently if not for people like Chad Nosbusch from Student Financial Services, who helped McDaniel find the financial assistance she needed, and Jean Hartman from the College of Business’ Accounting Department, who "was incredible through all of it," McDaniel said.

McDaniel managed to stay on the Dean’s List throughout her days at St. Thomas. "The scholarships made it possible for me to focus on school and family rather than on money," she said. She also worked to fund her education, but work was not her focus. The scholarships helped make it possible for her to graduate magna cum laude. Meanwhile, "my sisters, who live nine hours from the Twin Cities, now stay with neighbors across from where we used to live."

Based on her Sturgis, S.D., high school academic record, McDaniel received the University Scholarship and the Dean’s Scholarship for all four years at St. Thomas. She received a federal Pell Grant and a St. Thomas Grant. She also was awarded the Patrick and Michele Haggerty Scholarship, the Alliss Scholarship, the Dennis and Barbara Murphy Scholarship, the Minnesota Society of CPA Scholarship and the Allianz Life Insurance Scholarship.

McDaniel married Don Wolkenhauer on June 9, and began employment with Pricewaterhouse Coopers on Oct. 1. She was offered the job after an internship she received from on-campus interviews.

Next, meet Japhes Myaka, a St. Thomas graduate student and a native of Tanzania, East Africa, who met his wife, Stefka, while studying at the Varna Economic University in Varna, Bulgaria. His study of economics there was a combined B.S. and M.S. program of five years, plus one additional year spent studying Bulgarian. The couple have been in the United States for six years and have two children: Joanna, 9, and Martin, 4.

Now a resident of Minneapolis, Myaka first began an MBA program at Metro State University before he found information about St. Thomas’ Master’s in International Management program (MIM) on the Internet.

He spoke with Wendy Williams and later Christine Cameron, both of the MIM office, who advised him and helped him get started in the field of his dreams. "They were very helpful to me," he said. "And Wayne Vernon in the Office of Student Financial Services helped me find ways to finance my St. Thomas education." Myaka received the Graduate School of Business Scholarship for Students of Color and the business school’s Tuition Assistance Grant. He also took out a federal Stafford Student Loan.

"My wife is a full-time graduate student in food science at the University of Minnesota," Myaka said. "Our combined income is not enough to support our family and study. Tuition assistance is vital to make it possible for us to get our education." Myaka has found St. Thomas’ MIM program to be excellent. "All my professors have been great and very helpful," he said. "I go to see them without an appointment and they say, ‘Come in, Japhes.’"

Myaka works for the Metropolitan Economic Develop-ment Association, a nonprofit organization that helps minorities start businesses or get bank loans. He hopes to work for a company that does business worldwide. "If I don’t find the right company, I might start my own business," he said. "I’d also like to go back home and see what I can do for my struggling country."

Trinh also has high praise for Jalkio. "He is like a second adviser," she said, "very patient with the individual problems and concerns of each student." Trinh said the scholarships motivated her to work harder. She is thankful for the help and does not take it for granted. "Attending St. Thomas is a big investment," she said, "but well worth it. Without the scholarships, I would have had problems paying off my debts. I have heard of students with two jobs and two hours of sleep. The scholarships gave me a sense of ease. I could go to class, concentrate and absorb the knowledge, go home and focus on what I had read and discussed in class and soon will go on into the future to apply what I have learned."

In a couple of years, Trinh plans to pursue a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. "Receiving scholarships is a great honor and the impact does not end at graduation," she said. "I would like to extend its positive effect by becoming a unique engineer who will not only improve the quality of life but of living."

And that’s what Mike Preiner ’02 wants, too. Born and raised in Menahga, Minn., the third of four children, Preiner came to St. Thomas intending to major in history or English. Instead, he will earn a double major in physics (B.S.) and applied mathematics (B.A.) and a minor in electrical engineering. Based on his high school academic record and being a high school National Merit Finalist, he received the Distinguished Scholarship, the Dean’s Scholarship and the National Merit Scholarship for all four years at St. Thomas. He also was awarded the Elaine E. Dangers Scholarship, the Minnesota Space Grant and the Minnesota State Grant.

Then, there is the story of Cecilia Trinh ’02, who majors in mechanical engineering and minors in mathematics. She received financial aid from the Larkin-Harrington Scholarship, the P.M. Johnson Minority Scholarship, a federal Pell Grant, a Minnesota State Grant and a St. Thomas Grant.

Having transferred from two other schools, she has found St. Thomas’ programs to be excellent. "The professors here are very attentive, intellectual and easily accessible," she said. "They understand what is going on in their class as well as in other classes, making students feel that they are part of a warm, tight-knit community."

She especially credits Dr. Ronald Bennett and Dr. Jeff Jalkio. "Dr. Bennett is an outstanding and caring adviser," she said. "He is always available to pause within his busy schedule to listen to your questions, concerns and achievements and give you his expert advice and encouragement. He has the talent to strengthen your passion and skills, and in this way stretches even your maximum potential."

In addition, Preiner was one of 309 juniors nationally to receive the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for 2000-01. The scholarship, which encourages outstanding students in mathematics, natural sciences and engineering, is the premier undergraduate award in these fields. He received several scholarships from NASA, a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) award to do research at the University of Lincoln-Nebraska (summer 2000) and a National Science Foundation-REU award to conduct research at Stanford University in California (summer 2001).

"Until last fall, when I first received these scholarships, I was working a full-time job in addition to taking 20-22 credit hours and doing research here at St. Thomas," he said. "Receiving these scholarships relieved financial concerns and allowed me to drop my job and concentrate more on my schoolwork and research."

Preiner is happy with the science and math departments. "I especially have been very happy with the Physics Department," he said. "In particular, I have spent a lot of time working with Dr. Marty Johnston, who is a great teacher and has been instrumental in improving the Physics Department. The new science buildings have been great to work and study in, and I have met a lot of good students who have cited them as a major reason for choosing St. Thomas."

Preiner will attend Stanford University to obtain a Ph.D. in applied physics. "After that," he said, "I plan on pursuing industrial research as a career."