From Farm To College: Student Volunteer Kate Stewart
Growing up on a dairy farm in Northeast Iowa means Kate Stewart knows a thing or two about agriculture. “I’m the youngest of five siblings,” Kate said, “and we were all very active in 4-H and FFA.” From working on the family farm to representing the county as Dairy Princess, her interests in agriculture have had a big impact on Kate’s life and educational goals.
With her volunteer and leadership hours stacked high, Kate qualified for and received a Scholarship America® Student Volunteer Award – a national scholarship recognizing students who embody the volunteer spirit of Dollars for Scholars®. Kate was humbled by the recognition. “I just feel extremely honored that all the little stuff mattered,” she said. In addition to the national award, Kate received a merit scholarship managed by her local affiliate, Oelwein Dollars for Scholars, which she credits for making college all the more possible for students.
This fall, Kate’s attending Iowa State University to study Global Resource Systems, with a second major in either Agronomy or Nutrition. Thanks to Scholarship America supporters, programs like the Student Volunteer Award (and many others) give thousands of students across the country the chance to start or continue their postsecondary education.
That kind of support is impactful now and in the future. For students of all ages, the cost of attending school is a stark reality: tuition, books, room and board, meals, transportation and other expenses add up quickly and leave a hefty price tag to pay. As tuition has increased – more than three times the cost from 30 years ago – so has reliance on student loans, leading to higher amounts of debt after graduation. For students who pave the way to their degree, it can be a heavy burden to bear. Scholarships provide a welcome relief from that debt stress, offering funds that don’t need to be repaid.
Grants, scholarships and other forms of “gift money” go beyond the immediate dollars and cents of a tuition bill, too. By helping students toward graduation day, we’re enabling better, brighter futures for them and us. Earlier this year, President Obama addressed Georgia Tech students on why higher ed is so important nationally and personally:
“[T]oday, a college degree is the surest ticket to the middle class and beyond. It’s the key to getting a good job that pays a good income. And it offers a measure of security, because a college degree tells employers that you don’t just have one set of skills, [but] that you’ve got the continuous capacity to learn new skills, which is going to be particularly important for your generation, because the economy is going to churn and change in ways that none of us can even anticipate. …
“My mother was able to raise two kids by herself, in part because she got grants that helped pay for her education. And I am only standing here – and [First Lady] Michelle is only where she is today – because of scholarships and student loans and Work-Study. … We didn’t come from families of means, but we knew that if we worked hard, there was help out there to make sure we got a great education. That’s what this country gave to us.”
These benefits are echoed in the College Board’s Education Pays report, which outlines a number of ways that college-educated adults lead healthy, successful lives, including:
- More job earnings
- Lower unemployment rates
- Greater work satisfaction
- Healthier lifestyles
- Higher levels of volunteer and civic engagement
It’s no surprise that families are investing heavily into higher education – and why supporting students in our community is so important.
For students like Kate, college is opening new doors of opportunity. After her high school graduation, Kate was able to jump right into a summer internship at Iowa State, where she conducted research on corn and soybeans. Now, with classes in full swing, she’s that much closer to her dream of tackling world hunger. “I think college is really important in giving you more specialized information,” Kate said. “It helps you advance your learning, and you’re working with so many more people. I think for those who go to college, they don’t regret it.” And whether she’s completing research or on-the-field work, she’s ready to make a difference.
Kate’s story is adapted from the summer 2015 issue of Inspire, a magazine for Dollars for Scholars affiliates.