Beginning in the fall of 2002, Jennifer became a regular visitor to the financial aid office at Park University. Jennifer “made clear she had specific goals,” according to Alana Jennings, her financial aid counselor at Park. “If you are looking for a definition for ‘student success,’ ask Jennifer Eickhoff. She knows what it means and how to get there.”
Throughout her academic career, Jennifer was awarded a number of endowed scholarships, as well as some from outside sources, which she supplemented with Federal Pell Grant, Federal Work-Study, and Missouri state funding.
Upon her graduation with a degree in athletic training and a minor in biology, Jennifer was able to leave college with no debt. She then attended nursing school, followed by graduate school, and now works as a board-certified family nurse practitioner.
In an email to Alana, after she had obtained her advanced degrees, Jennifer wrote: “Thank you so much for helping me find ways to finance my education that landed me in a career I love. I am beyond grateful. You might be wondering what prompted this note – I just paid off all my student loans from my other degrees.”
Jennifer’s story was submitted by Alana Jennings, policy & procedures specialist at Park University in Parkville, MO
“The metaphor of a caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly describes Cheryl-Lynn May’s transition to becoming the outstanding person she is today,” according to Oakton Community College Director of Enrollment Services Cheryl Warmann.
A first-generation, low-income student, Cheryl-Lynn became connected with Oakton’s TRIO program while enrolled at the school and found support and opportunity. She graduated from Oakton in 2006 as a member of the Phi Theta Kappa academic honor society and earned a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation undergraduate transfer scholarship to continue her educational pursuits.
Cheryl-Lynn went on to complete her bachelor’s degree at Lake Forest College, and her graduate degree at the University of Delaware in 2010, where she received a fellowship from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. She currently works at the Wexner Center for the Arts at The Ohio State University, where she has been involved with the creation of nine exhibits. She is also the 2015 recipient of the peer-nominated Mark Tappan Award.
In addition to her professional pursuits, Cheryl-Lynn is active in several non-profit organizations, currently serving as secretary for the Jack Kent Cooke Scholar Association Executive Board. She has also volunteered for numerous associations, including the Wexner Center for the Arts Committee for Inclusion and Diversity, the English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor program at Oakton, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Cheryl-Lynn’s story was submitted by Cheryl Warmann, director of enrollment services at Oakton Community College in Illinois.
When Michael first sat down in in front of Kristin Bhaumik, University of Michigan’s assistant director for special programs, he was in the midst of a sudden family crisis, financial trouble, and the pursuit of a highly rigorous degree. In his mind, dropping out of school to work and support his younger siblings, who were placed in the foster care system, was the only option. “My biggest challenge with Mike was to get him to focus on taking care of himself and believe in me when I said there were financial resources available to help him finish school,” Kristin says.
Through the use of professional judgement, Michael was declared an independent student and received the financial resources he needed to continue his education. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 2007 and went on to earn his law degree from Marquette University Law School, as well as his MBA from Marquette in 2014.
“Michael remains one of the most inspiring people … I have ever met,” Kristin says. “I truly believe that had we lost him that day, he would never have persisted in his undergraduate degree, let alone go on to earn a law and business degree. His success has not just been a personal triumph, it has changed the entire trajectory of his family.”
While accepting the 2011 Student Success Story of the Year Award from the Midwest Association of Students Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA), Michael said that the aid he received from the University of Michigan “was more than simply money – it changed my life.”
“U of M’s Financial Aid Department saved my life and helped me reach all of my goals,” he said at the time. “I truly hope that other students across the nation can experience the life-changing benefits that I received from financial aid.”
Michael currently works for Humana as an enterprise compliance process manager.
Michael’s story was submitted by Kristin Bhaumik, assistant director for special programs at the University of Michigan.
Gina graduated from high school sixth in her class out of 321 students but says she knew nothing about college nor what it took to pay for it. Raised by a single mother in poverty, Gina, who worked throughout high school to help her mother pay for basic needs, thought college was a financial impossibility for her.
Years later, Gina was sitting with her then boyfriend – now husband – answering several questions on "Jeopardy" and knocking them out of the park. “He asked why I had never gone to college,” Gina says. “I told him I couldn't afford it.” He told Gina about the availability of financial aid and “the rest is history,” Gina says.
Gina went on to receive a bachelor’s of science in Organization Management from Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting, IN, and a master’s of business administration in accounting from Indiana Wesleyan.
“I jumped at the opportunity to join the field of financial aid as I truly understand the importance of it and of informing high school students that college is possible and affordable as there are still many first generations students pursuing the American dream,” Gina says.
Gina submitted her own story.
With the help of financial aid, Gary was the first in his family to earn a college degree, from Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
Although Gary says he made decisions in his educational path for “the wrong reasons” – pursuing business administration because it didn’t require foreign language courses, for example – financial aid had an impact on his life for a second time, as a career.
While searching for a steady job with more standard work hours that would allow his day to coincide more closely with his wife’s, a family member introduced Gary to Herm Davis, who at the time was director of financial aid at Montgomery Community College. Gary says Herm became a colleague, friend, “mentor and savior,” who guided him “into new and uncharted waters of financial aid administration.”
“The early days were great,” Gary says. “Over time however, I got the bug that financial aid professionals get to do more. I joined committees and conducted high school nights and attended trainings and conferences. That was the end of my nine-to-five career position.”
Gary has since held state and regional positions, was the director of financial aid at a major university, a vice president of student lending at Bank of America, and now works with the American Public University System as vice president of student financial aid.
“I remember my first discussions with friends and family about my new career in financial aid,” Gary says. “It always started or ended with elaborating on the concept that, ‘I went from taking money from young people in exchange for small stones to giving money to young people to help them achieve their educational goals.’”
Gary submitted his own story.
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, Caitlin’s childhood dream was to fight hunger in her community and help others. However, her dreams were cut short when she began to use drugs at the age of 12. Seven years and three treatment centers later, Caitlin began to maintain her long-term sobriety in 2010, and has done so successfully for six years.
While her life took many unexpected turns, it was the people who wanted to help her when she did not know how to help herself that put her on the path to a career in public health. In 2015, Caitlin graduated Magna Cum Laude from Lawrence University and began her master’s degree in public health at Columbia University in the fall of 2015.
“I had always had the desire to get a higher education, but knowing that I would have to finance it myself made that an impossibility,” Caitlin says. “That is, until I spoke with Sara Beth in the financial aid department and she helped me figure out a way to make it work. Financial aid literally made my dream come true - without it, I know that I would not be where I am today. I am truly grateful.”
Caitlin’s story was submitted by Sara Beth Holman, director of financial aid at Lawrence University in Appleton, WI.