Posted on: April 23, 2023 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Graphic by James Landgraf

By Nick Stulga, Editor-in-Chief

It’ll only take about 30 minutes of your time, and you could end up with free money to help cover your classes at Moraine.

The Moraine Valley Foundation has extended its deadline to apply for scholarships until May 12, due to an abnormally low number of essay submissions. The college has only received 300 this year, compared with an average of 1,500 in past years.

Individuals donate money each year to make it easier for students to obtain an education, says Patti Mehallick, Moraine’s director of alumni and annual programs, who coordinates the scholarship process. 

“It’s not just necessarily old millionaires, it’s everyday people, most of our scholarships come from,” Mehallick said. “Our employees give almost $100,000 a year–your faculty, your people at the window when you’re paying your tuition bill.”

The Foundation organizes fundraisers to help raise money, like a gala, a 5K, and a golf outing, and sends mailings asking for money. Scholarships are just one of the things that donations fund.

Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Matos
Culinary major and scholarship winner Elizabeth Matos (bottom left) attends a Santana concert with her mentors, Rosa and Billy Branch, and their daughter Noelle.

“During COVID, we helped purchase laptops for people who didn’t have them,” Mehallick said. “Right now, we’re paying for all the fees of new students.”

Scholarships are offered for a wide variety of things, but you don’t have to apply individually for them. When students apply, their essay is automatically submitted for every available one. The essay must be between 300 and 500 words.

MV student Elizabeth Matos wrote hers about her childhood struggles moving between Chicago and Puerto Rico and being sexually abused. She ended up winning the Anne Regan scholarship, worth $4,000.

“I speak about when I was little, the hard times I went through, especially being raped,” Matos said. “My life changed after being raped, 5 or 6 years old, by a family member.”

She was raped the same year her parents divorced. Regardless, she fought on. “I’ve believed in myself and been a stronger person,” Matos said. “I must have an angel looking after me.”

It then happened again when she was 14, this time by a schoolmate. She was tied up and beaten in the middle of a sugarcane field.

 “I remember walking through the sugarcane field trying to get out, bleeding, fainting,” Matos said. “I remember seeing the road. The last thing I remember was a Jeep driving down the hill and he picked me up. It was my best friend’s brother.”

This didn’t stop her from getting her GED from Moraine in 2014, which was spurred on by her “guardian angel” Rosa Branch, wife of blues player Billy Branch. She recently returned to the school to seek a double degree, cramming 14 credit hours of classes into last summer’s agenda. 

Matos said she got up at 7:30 to do homework to finish her double degree: “Let me tell you, it was pretty hard.”

She doubled in culinary arts and restaurant management, and is now getting a data entry certificate. The 53-year-old has persevered through her grandmother’s motto: “We don’t have an expiration date.”

Every dollar that a student gets is a gift from somebody. They don’t have to pay it back.”

MV director of alumni and annual programs Patti Mehallick

The money received will not count against a student’s financial aid, according to Mehallick. If a student’s EFC score is 10,000 or below, they qualify for nearly every scholarship the college offers. An EFC score determines a student’s eligibility for financial aid.

“Every dollar that a student gets is a gift from somebody,” she said. “They don’t have to pay it back.”

If the student has already covered the cost of tuition, their books, and any fees, the money goes directly to the student. Mehallick hopes they put the money towards future educational needs.

Some of the already submitted 300 essays aren’t even finished. Mehallick isn’t quite sure why that number is so low but thinks it could be because the original deadline was too close to spring break and midterms. 

Through social media, Moraine gave an impromptu survey to students to figure out why. The top answers were being too busy with other commitments and disliking the essay portion. 

The essay prompt seems straightforward enough: “Write a 300-500 word detailed essay that tells why and how you feel a scholarship will help you as an individual to achieve your goals. Discuss something unique or special about yourself such as an accomplishment or family situation that sets you apart and makes you an ideal candidate for a scholarship.”

Photo courtesy of Michal Staniszewski
MV respiratory therapy student and scholarship winner Michal Staniszewski dressed in his medical gear at a clinical site.

Not every student will have a dramatic story to tell, but the essay is about getting to know the student as a person. Mehallick acknowledges that asking for specifics of their lives may cause some students to hesitate in writing the essay.

“So we like to hear their story, but maybe that makes it harder for the students to think,” she said. “Maybe it’s harder for them to share personal things. So you don’t have to, but it will certainly make the odds better [of winning].”

Some students have submitted poems instead of essays, and certain scholarships, like the Riley Spreadbury Scholarship, accept video entries.

MV respiratory therapy student Michal Staniszewski was last year’s winner of the Spreadbury.

“I never thought about receiving such a prestigious scholarship, but as they say, nothing is impossible!” he said. “Overall Moraine Valley college staff have been always great and supportive—whether it’s financial aid, registration or scholarship advising.”

Another department that is supportive during the scholarship process is the Speaking and Writing Center, which is offering students help writing their essays. The center will help with everything from brainstorming to revision.

Students can walk in to A258 or email to set up an appointment.

Once submitted, essays are reviewed by a committee of 50-75 people: faculty, staff, alumni, business leaders, Old National bank employees for community service, retirees. The names of the students who wrote the essays remain anonymous, replaced by a number.

Mehallick has some advice to help students craft the best essay possible.

“Imagine you’re reading someone’s essay and you want something that’s going to touch your heart,” Mehallick said. “And I’ve got times where I’ve got tears in my eyes, some of them are so touching. And some that have made me laugh.

“You do have to be a little bit creative.”

Anyone looking to submit an entry can do so here.