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Debt-Free Grad Maximizes Education

Amy Lee, a transfer student from the Lone Star College System, graduated with a degree in education from University of St. Thomas nearly debt free and with a job opportunity at Horne Elementary School in the Cy-Fair Independent School District. How did she do it?

“You have to want it,” Lee said. “Neither one of my parents went to college, so I was excited to be able to complete and earn my degree. Besides federal financial aid, the other grants are solely based on academics or applying for different scholarships. I just didn’t let one pass.”

Lee, who is from a little town called Fresno outside of Houston, was able to completely cover the cost of five years of education with only about $2,500 left. Other St. Thomas institutional financial aid, such as the Transfer Student Scholarship, the Alumni Association Student Award and the Tuition Equalization Grant, helped her cover the costs of tuition and books.

According to CollegeBoard Advocacy and Policy Center’s “Trends in Higher Education Series: Trends in Student Aid 2012,” about two-thirds of students earning bachelor’s degrees from private nonprofit institutions had debt averaging $29,900.

When Lee transitioned to UST in 2010, the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships assisted her with scholarship eligibility.

After figuring out all the finances, Lee could focus purely on her degree in the School of Education. Dr. Rick Krustchinsky, associate dean of the undergraduate education program, worked with Lee. She said his hands-on teaching methods were perfectly applicable to children, and she still emails him with questions.

Krustchinsky said from the first time he advised Lee as a transfer student, he knew she was going to be a fabulous student and addition to the teacher education program.

“Her excellent academic record from a community college coupled with her enthusiasm and positive attitude was sensational,” Krustchinsky said. “Now that she graduated, Amy is one of those students who we will never forget.  She indeed has had a wonderful three years at UST accomplishing everything I knew she would from that first visit in my office.”

With Krustchinsky’s encouragement, Lee applied and was accepted into the NASA Pre-Service Teacher Institute, a week-long training for future teachers. She was also able to study abroad in Jamaica in January 2013 with her education cohort group. She said she will miss the community of the cohort group.

“Having that community made it such an easy flow because we have a lot of group projects and going out into the field together,” she said. “It makes it so much easier if everybody is close. We’re a unit outside as well, so when we go to other schools, we know how to bond with other teachers and be a team.”

Lee said everyone in the graduating education cohort at UST has a job. Now, Lee is in a long-term substitute teaching position at Horne. She will be teaching third grade language arts at Horne next year.

“It’s very exciting to graduate with a degree in general, but coming from St. Thomas makes it more exciting,” she said. “It’s exciting to say that I came from a prestigious school like St. Thomas and say I made it. If I can make it, anyone can make it. Trust me.”