Catherine Santis has taken out numerous federal student loans to finance her education. She came to UIC knowing she’d have to work part-time to assist her single mom, while balancing a full course load. But that all changed when the E. E. Carter Foundation’s Carter Opportunity Scholarship came to her. She now devotes all her time to studies and expects to graduate debt free in 2014.
College of Engineering student Catherine Santis (center), who won the E. E. Carter Foundation's Carter Opportunity Scholarship, conducts outreach work for UIC's Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers
“Going to college was a no brainer,” says Santis. “I knew I had to do it to ensure a better future for my family. But my mom often works seven days a week, so going in, financing concerned me a lot.”
Despite this uncertainty, Santis enrolled at UIC because the combination of its cost, quality of degree and the research opportunities available couldn’t be beat anywhere she looked. In researching career paths, Santis says she fell in love at first sight with bioengineering. At the intersection of healthcare, science and math, it was a perfect fit for her.
As it turned out, Santis was a perfect fit for the Carter Foundation Opportunity grant. She received an out-of-the-blue phone call from Gerald Smith, director of the Minority Engineering Recruitment and Retention Program, to alert her she’d been nominated for the award. At a subsequent meeting, he explained that the scholarship pays off federal student loans up to $20,000 for five Latina engineering students annually who complete their degrees within six years.
The Carter Foundation was started by E. Eugene Carter, former professor and chair of UIC’s finance department. His father was an engineer and his wife, also a former finance professor at UIC, is of Cuban descent. Thus, they chose to support Hispanic women in engineering. While the Foundation gives to public universities nationwide, they feel a special connection to UIC in part because they have found its students to be articulate, motivated and appreciative.
“Borrowing money makes going to college possible for many students, but the debt many graduate with can be a huge burden,” says Jane O’Neil, Trustee and Secretary of the Carter Foundation. “We hope our recipient students, knowing they’ll be able to repay their subsidized federal loans at graduation, will focus fully on their studies rather than working during the school year.”
That’s exactly what happened for Santis. The Carter Opportunity Scholarship created the breathing room she needed to quit her outside job at a time when major class projects were making it stressful to balance school and work. And it opens up many post-graduation opportunities, including graduate school.
“I can’t even describe what it felt like to learn about this scholarship,” says Santis. “It was such a huge relief. Now I will owe zero when I graduate.”