Scholarships can provide sense of purpose, belonging
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Emily Busse may only be a college junior, but her résumé already rivals those of some young professionals.

The University of Iowa junior has spent the last three years rising through the ranks of the school’s award-winning student-run daily newspaper and website, the Daily Iowan; landed a summer internship specializing in “hyper-local reporting” in suburban Chicago; and just finished a full-time spring semester reporting internship at Iowa’s second-largest daily newspaper, The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Now she’s preparing to lead the Daily Iowan’s staff of 100 as editor-in-chief for the 2012–13 academic year.

“The Daily Iowan, the internships, they’ve been amazing experiences,” says Busse, 21, of Mount Prospect, Ill. “The hands-on experience has been invaluable. My classroom education has been important, but this is what’s going to get me a job on staff at a news organization after graduation.”

Focus on affordability

In advance of President Barack Obama's April 25 UI speech, Iowa Now presents a series of stories about opportunities that make an Iowa education possible for students from different backgrounds.

That’s why Busse is so grateful for scholarship money. Without it, she says, she would feel pressure to get a better paying job to cover the cost of tuition. And that wouldn’t leave time for the Daily Iowan, where she works 30 to 50 hours a week, let alone the internships.

“Being able to not worry about the cost of college has let me invest all my time in becoming a better journalist,” she says. “It takes a huge weight off my shoulders and my family’s shoulders—I have two brothers who are also attending college, and it’s nice to know that I can help my family by working hard to get these scholarships.”

Busse has several merit-based scholarships, including the Presidential Scholarship, the university’s most prestigious academic scholarship; the Iowa Heritage Award, a scholarship for nonresident students whose parent, stepparent, legal guardian, or grandparent is an alum of the university; and the Bill Mertens Memorial Daily Iowan Scholarship, a program for outstanding high school journalists.

Approximately $54 million of institutional scholarships and grants were awarded to undergraduate students during the 2010–11 academic year.

The scholarships cover 100 percent of Busse’s tuition and fees, with money left over for books, rent, and food. When she graduates next spring, Busse will be among the nearly 40 percent of University of Iowa students who graduate debt-free.

“It’s nice to know that when I’m done with college, I’ll be able to move forward in my career without being tethered by student debt,” she says. “I remember thinking it was a lot of work to apply for all those scholarships, but it was so worth it. What other writing assignment is going to pay that much?”

But the scholarships do more than just provide financial support, she says.

“Just knowing that the university recognized me as someone they wanted, and someone they would support after I got here… that made coming to a big out-of-state university a lot less scary. It made me feel like I had a purpose, a niche, right away.”

That’s especially true with the Daily Iowan scholarship, she says. The scholarship, which was started in the late 1980s by publisher Bill Casey, awards $4,500 per year to three or four incoming students. Along with the monetary award, DI scholars are directly admitted to the school’s journalism program and begin working as reporters at the newspaper their very first semester on campus.

“The scholarship has brought really top students to the university, and to the Daily Iowan,” Casey says. “It gives them four years of experience working at a daily newspaper, and access to the coaches who help kids become better writers, photographers, editors, and news broadcasters.”

DI scholar alumni now work at major media outlets like the New York Times, USA Today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Associated Press, the Austin American-Statesman, the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and Politico; teach journalism at schools like Drake University and American University; and more.

“For me,” Busse says, “it was the last piece of the puzzle in deciding to come to Iowa.”