Scholarship recipient tours high schools to share tips for success

December 16, 2014

Reprinted with permission from Jennifer R. Vertullo | Trib Total Media

MCKEESPORT, Pa. -- Penn State Greater Allegheny freshman Andrew Kuzma, who funded his college education with local scholarships, is sharing the secrets of his success with high school students across Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Kuzma is a 2014 graduate of Elizabeth Forward High School, where he was unsure of his role as a standout student, despite ranking 20th in his class.

“I went to my guidance counselor,” he recalled. “I said, ‘There's 19 people ahead of me. Why should I even try?'”

Counselors Carrie Jones and Lauren Fusco helped Kuzma realize that scholarships are available to more than the valedictorian. There are awards based on grades, attendance, community service and creativity.

“They said one word in an essay can make a difference,” Kuzma said.

After being turned down for his first handful of scholarship applications, Kuzma examined his essay and realized it lacked emotion. It wasn't compelling.

“All I did was pat myself on the back,” he said. “The idea was to change that, tell my life story and personalize my essays. All you really need are two or three really good essays, and you can use them for different applications.”

Instead of bragging about his consistent 4.0 grade-point average or his service at the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank with the National Honor Society, Kuzma reached into his personal life and shared the tragedy that prompted his interest in medical and legal profession. He talked about the pain his family experienced when his grandfather acquired a staphylococcus aureus infection during surgery to implant a pacemaker. He discussed the role of physicians and attorneys when dealing with malpractice issues.

“That essay that makes your English teacher cry is always better than listing things you'd find on a resume,” Kuzma said.

But because those things are still important, Kuzma said he includes his grade-point average, coursework and volunteer experience on an outline-style resume, which he attaches to the application.

“Even if they don't ask for it, I include my resume and a list of references,” he said. “I always include letters of recommendation from diverse sources, not all teachers. You can include your employer, your pastor, a coach or mentor.”

Kuzma encourages students to maintain that community connection by choosing local scholarship opportunities. He received more than $80,000 through awards including Elizabeth Rotary Club Outstanding Community Service, Pittsburgh Foundation William J. Wolf Memorial, Christine and William Maley Foundation, Lola G. Duff Memorial Fund, Elizabeth Forward Alumni & Friends Association, Anne R. Monroe Foundation and Jacob Bendel Memorial.

“I completely funded my whole education,” he said.

Kuzma takes his advice on the road with high school visits organized by Penn State Greater Allegheny.

“A lot of students know there are scholarships out there, but they're busy or they're not motivated to find them,” he said.

On visits to schools, including his alma mater, McKeesport Area and South Allegheny, he encourages students to “Be different, be organized and stay local.” He displays a thorough PowerPoint presentation that compares the odds for national and local scholarships. He also warns of Internet scams that promise scholarship consideration with no regard for achievement, but instead pass applicant information on to advertisers.

“I'm very grateful for the financial help I've received,” Kuzma said. “I can focus on my grades and being involved in the Penn State community. I want to be able to help students with something I had to learn on my own. I want to give back to other people.”

Lou Anne Caliguiri, director of student and enrollment services at Penn State Greater Allegheny, said the university's admissions department is impressed with Kuzma's individual success and his willingness to pay it forward.

“It's really unusual to see somebody who has, through his hard work, been able to receive so much and then turn around and share that immediately,” she said. “Very few first-year students are comfortable going out to speak to assemblies of students.”

Caliguiri said Kuzma is showing students their dreams are possible with networking, patience and attention to detail. She said he embraces Penn State's motto of making life better.

“It's about coming into the community and leaving it better than you found it,” Caliguiri said. “He's truly embraced that.”

In addition to his regional visits with college-bound students, Kuzma volunteers in the admissions office, where he completes paperwork and provides general support. He intended to complete a work study program there, but became ineligible upon receiving so many scholarships.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 16, 2014