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KSU student's hard work getting awards helps fund year abroad

By admin Published: July 5, 2011

When Jessica Miller decided to spend a year studying in Germany, she knew she had to come up with a way to pay for it.

So she devoted her freshman year at Kent State applying for grants and scholarships and winning eight awards totaling $16,000 to make her dream come true.

Now she is wrapping up a year of study at the 600-year-old University of Leipzig in the former East Germany and will return to Kent State this fall as a junior.

''It is pretty amazing what she was able to do,'' said her adviser Geoffrey Koby, an associate professor of German translation at KSU. ''It's more than I've ever had a student do.''

Many students cobble together grants, scholarships, work-study programs and loans to pay for their educations. That can be expensive enough.

But for students like Jessica who want to become proficient translators of a written foreign language in business, law, medicine and science, travel isn't an option but a necessity, said Koby. The KSU department offers undergraduate programs in German, Spanish, French and Russian and is the largest of its kind nationwide.

But coming up with money to pave the way for overseas' study can be no easy thing, said Jim Miller, president of the National Association of College Admission Counseling and coordinator of institutional research at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He is not related to Jessica.

While the nonprofit College Board website indicates that 2,300 sources of college funding provide nearly $3 billion in aid each year, much of it is earmarked to special niches of students or is so competitive that students face ''extraordinarily high odds'' in getting the money, he said.

''I've talked to students who applied for 100 scholarships and didn't get any,'' he said.

Jessica made it her job to look for grants which usually are need-based and scholarships ­ which are merit-based at the national and local levels almost as soon as her feet hit the Kent State campus in fall 2009. ''I'm really into planning,'' she said.

She knew what she was getting into: She'd already visited Germany twice while in high school, spoke some German, loves to travel and had a firm career goal in mind to work for the U.S. State Department or a foreign embassy.

So she studied how other students paid their way, went online to hunt for awards and applied for just about anything that came her way.

Fortunately, different programs had different deadlines throughout the year. She lost count of how many awards she applied for, but estimates the total at ''easily'' more than 20.

But it paid off when she landed a National SMART Grant and Academic Competitive Grant from the U.S. Department of Education; a Fiedler-BorgWarner Scholarship and Honors Scholarship from Kent State and a $570-a-month scholarship from the University of Leipzig, among others.

The financial aid paid for 11 months of school, lodging, food, books and even portions of some vacations, although Jessica has chipped in $5,000 along the way.

Even better, none of it has to be paid back.

Along the way, she's improved her fluency in German from about 70 percent when she landed at Leipzig to complete fluency today.

''Start early,'' she advised students who have similar goals. ''I never stopped trying to make it happen.''

Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or cbiliczky@thebeaconjournal.com.

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