Student Thank You by Chris Rura

When I found out that I had been awarded this prestigious scholarship, I was beyond ecstatic. I was not only excited for the guaranteed reward that comes with the scholarship, but also for the opportunity to reach out to donors like yourself, and tell my story. Thank you for choosing to help me with your dona- tion. It is because of people like you who help students such as me afford to ex- perience many of the great things that Villanova offers. My name is Christopher Rura, commonly referred to as Chris. I am currently a Senior at Villanova and I am majoring in Astronomy and Astrophysics, as well as pur- suing minors in Mathemat-ics, Physics, and Peace and Justice. I am from Homer City, Pennsylvania, a small town about an hour’s drive west of Pittsburgh. While I will cherish my years at Villanova for all of my life, my family and I struggle to pay for my education at Villanova. I come from a middle-class family; my father welds locomotives for Norfolk Southern and my mother is a teacher at my local high school. My sister,

Danielle, has just completed her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree at St. Francis University in Loretto, PA. The DPT program there consists of six years, and the final three years are graduate year-round courses and clini- cals. During this time, she worked at summer highway jobs, work study at school, and more recently, worked as a licensed official at PIAA and league basketball, volleyball, and softball, on weekends and nights. She also received several merit scholarships. She earned, with Honors, her Bachelor’s degree in 2015, and was just awarded her Doctorate degree. We are all extremely proud of her and her accomplishments. However, she ac- quired much debt of her own, and my parents, attempting to help pay her tuition, have taken out parent plus loans each year. These loans alone will be very staggering to my parents’ modest income as they begin to re- pay them. Now, as they begin to repay the plus loans for her, my parents are continuing to assist me through my undergraduate studies at Villanova by incurring additional parent plus loans. I too am seeking to apply to graduate school to continue my degree after this year. Not knowing how much more student debt I will accu- mulate with the addition of graduate school has caused many financial unknowns for my family. I tried to earn as much as feasible for the past several years, and still continue to do so. I worked two summers for PennDOT, performed work study in the public observatory at Villanova ever since I was a freshman, worked as a teaching assistant for one of my professors. Last summer and this one, I acquired a paid internship at the United States Naval Observatory.

At this point with total debt, including both my sister and I, for my family of almost $315,000, logically speak- ing, maybe my sister and I should have chosen different collegiate paths, but we picked private schools with outstanding educational credentials along with moral compasses where we felt we could achieve our goals. As a family, we accepted the inevitable outcome of being in debt. However, this is a great concern of mine. I know that my career goal will require further education, including graduate degrees and much time spent do-

ing research. I know that someday those expenses will be put solely on my shoulders to pay for. I have already accepted the fact that I will be in debt for much of my early professional life. Realistically, it will be several years until I can assist my parents with the loans that they incurred, and repay my own educational loans. I want desperately to alleviate some of their expense as well as mine by applying for and acquiring scholarship money whenever possible. I have always been grateful when I was selected for those honors, in high school and in college, and I never used the award for anything but my college expenses. While all of what I have shared so far that has obviously put myself and my family in much stress, both financial and physical, student debt is a fairly common problem in the United States. . However, this is where my story starts to diverge from a characteristic college student’s story. While all of these expenses are affecting us now, just as it is affecting so many other families in America, my family started out miles behind.

Early in my lifetime, my father became very ill. he suffered from diagnosed severe clinical depression and Ob- sessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is difficult for my family and me to share, however, it is an important part of our story. This was a dark period in my father’s life, as he and we experienced many disturbing things as he was fighting the demons in his mind. During this period in his life, he was admitted to several hospitals

and was removed from his stable job as a boilermaker. Each time that he acquired another job, his illness con- tinued to rip it away from him, causing a horrible cycle of being unemployed, admitted to another hospital, and trying to pick up the broken pieces of himself along the way. My father often told me that he would not wish what happened to him upon his worst enemy. My mother sustained our family of four while earning a teacher’s salary for the many years that my dad was unstable. During this period in her life, she had to care for my dad, and my sister and me, who were both very young. Simply paying for a house, automobile, and the routine ex- penses of day to day living, on her beginning teacher’s salary made developing a college fund for us only a dream. Thankfully, after almost a decade, my father was properly treated, put on medication, and regained enough responsibility to hold a job. I am enormously thankful and proud that my dad was able to beat (or at least, be less affected by) his illness. However, he is still receiving treatment and counseling routinely. We still feel and see the effects of it today and pray that he remains stable.

This scholarship is unique because of the many opportunities that it holds beyond the immediate reward that is promised at the awarding of the scholarship. Since this scholarship helps me with my tuition, it provides some financial relief in my efforts to attain an outstanding education and to also participate in some of the other valuable op- portunities that Villanova offers. For the last three years, in addition to The Villanova Singers and Pastoral Musicians, I have participated in the Astronomy, Physics, and Math Clubs. I also have

also been a part of both faith and service- oriented events and programs, such as the Soph- omore Service Learning Community (SLC), the

Villanova Day of Service, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, the Faith and Reason Freshmen Learning Community, the Faith and Learning Scholars, and Back on My Feet. Back on My Feet entails getting up each Friday at 4:30 am to participate in a 6 am running program for persons experiencing homelessness in Philadel- phia. The warm and welcoming people in these groups have influenced me to make service a core part of my Villanova Experience. While I whole-heartedly love all the groups that I am involved with on campus, the ma- jority of the time that I spend at Villanova is spent studying. As I must carry a course load of approximately 20 hours per semester for my astronomy and astrophysics major, the time I spend studying is time that could be

used working outside of classes to help provide additional funds. My position as a teacher’s assistant to my professor is alternate means of helping to pay for my schooling.

My immediate academic plans are to continue my undergrad- uate education at Villanova and graduate with a major in Astronomy and Astrophysics with minors in Mathematics, Phys- ics, and Peace and Justice. Once I graduate from Villanova, I plan to attend a graduate school where I will continue my education and pursue the goal of attaining a Ph.D. in an Astronomy

related field. With these qualifications, I then aspire to work at either a public or private research facility for Astrono- my. This includes various NASA facilities, other governmental sites such as the United States Naval Observatory, or private

contractors such as Space-X and Orbital-Industries. My childhood and teenager dream was to become an astronaut. Who knows!!!

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