Five Northern Illinois University students with strong character, grand ambitions and intellectual curiosity are now recipients of the first-ever Forward, Together Forward scholarships.
Deanna Bach, Jacqueline Do, Scott Hudek, Justin Kuryliw and Grace Weidner, who share those qualities with the five students lost Feb. 14, 2008, each receive a one-time scholarship of $4,000.
“This is NIU’s most prestigious honor for students,” Provost Raymond Alden said. “These five are all highly involved, goal-oriented and motivated. They’re devoted to making NIU, and the world around them, a better place. They will carry on the memories and the good works of the five students to whom this scholarship is dedicated.”
“During Feb. 14, 2008, we all saw how strong the entire NIU family is. Reading through the applications just strengthened that notion,” added Dana Gautcher, NIU’s scholarship coordinator and financial retention advocate. “We truly have a tremendous number of students who are working hard and doing really wonderful things to better themselves and the lives of others.”
Seventy-one students applied for the scholarships. A committee of nine faculty and two students selected 15 of those as finalists, who then sat for interviews.
The applications asked for not only grade-point averages but awards, honors, achievements, community service, extracurricular involvement, employment experience, hobbies and special interests.
Hopefuls had to write short essays on what it means to be an NIU Huskie, their thoughts on character, their dreams and how they will honor the memories of Gayle Dubowski, Catalina Garcia, Julianna Gehant, Ryanne Mace and Daniel Parmenter.
The unique set of requirements grew from an unsolicited outpouring of funding from friends of the university who wanted to memorialize the deceased students through a scholarship fund.
“The committee that came together decided the best way to do that was to recognize the attributes of these students,” Alden said.
“These scholarships are not based on simply academic records – although that’s a component – but on the character and the values these students represented,” he added. “The students we lost were hard-working individuals. They all were engaged in the university community in some way. They were all extremely well-liked. They were five students who represented the kinds of characteristics we treasure.”
Mallory M. Simpson, president of the NIU Foundation, said 1,639 donors have come together to build the $631,390 scholarship fund.
The current grand total of all Feb. 14-related gifts is $846,363 from 2,237 donors: Three hundred and twenty-three donors have contributed $95,517 to three individually named funds established in the colleges; 275 donors have given or pledged around $120,000 for the memorial garden project.
Grace Weidner, who was in the Cole Hall auditorium when the shooting took place, is grateful for the scholarship recognition and the process itself.
“It was more difficult than I thought it would be. The essays were the hardest part,” Weidner said. “When it came to actually typing things out, I found I would say things that I really hadn’t shared with anyone before. A lot of what I’ve wanted to say for a really long time came out in my writing.”
Here is a closer look at the five Forward, Together Forward scholarship recipients:
If communication is key to global peace and understanding, Deanna Bach is well on her way.
The self-taught pianist composes songs to perform at local cafés and coffee shops, finding in music “an unexplainable power to speak truth to all of us in spite of our differences.” The Spanish Languages and Literature major is enamored with concepts of microfinance and micro-lending – small loans made to would-be entrepreneurs in impoverished parts of the world – and translates Spanish requests into English.
After Feb. 14, Bach learned of another way to connect.
“Our Honors Program reached out to an injured student just to say, ‘We’re thinking of you and we hope you’re doing OK,’ ” said Bach, a junior from Wheaton. “We brought her a teddy bear that every student who had come into the Honors office had hugged. We sent her hugs.”
Bach is a peer adviser for Honors and worked three semesters as a community adviser in the residence halls. She served as an after-school tutor for Conexion Comunidad, volunteered for the American Red Cross and NIU Cares Day and has worked six years at the Wheaton Park District’s Safety City Preschool.
An “A” student, Bach feels privileged to win a scholarship “unlike any other.”
“I was so excited to apply because I knew it was going to be based on character and kindness,” she said. “They were looking for the goodness of someone’s heart to represent these students.”
“Deanna will bring only honor to the memory of the students that were victims of Feb. 14,” said Dennis Barsema, who teaches Bach in a College of Business course. “She embodies the spirit, drive, honesty and integrity that these students represent on our campus and in the world.”
When she was 8 years old, Jacqueline Do told her parents she wanted to be a pediatrician. Now 19, she has never been more determined to reach that goal.
The academically talented sophomore is a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship and a member of both the National Society of Collegiate Scholars and Lambda Sigma Honors Society. She works at a local bank and volunteers regularly at a DeKalb assisted living center, all the while juggling a challenging load of coursework in biological sciences and chemistry.
Do said she plans to attend medical school after graduating from NIU.
“Jacqueline is a highly motivated, dedicated and hard-working student,” said Distinguished Research Professor Chhiu-Tsu Lin. “She has strong drive and determination that pushes her every day to do all that she can to excel.”
During elementary school and again in high school, Do visited relatives in Vietnam and was struck by the disparity she saw in children’s health care. It heightened her interest in becoming a doctor and in finding ways to provide care to all children.
The Feb. 14, 2008 tragedy further strengthened her resolve. The lifelong DeKalb resident said she was devastated, but she learned during that period to lean on family and friends for support.
“How we decide to act during the tragedy as well as how we cope with the tragedy shows a lot about our character,” she said. “Undoubtedly, we learn things about ourselves as individuals.
“I have learned to live each day to its fullest, accept all opportunities, and to push myself with every fiber of my being to pursue my dreams,” she added.
Scott Hudek believes character is defined by actions, not words.
And his actions spoke loudly on Feb. 14, 2008.
An Air Force veteran who was twice deployed to Iraq, Hudek, 29, is now a full-time NIU student who also works on campus in the university’s Veterans’ Assistance Office. He was at the office when he heard there had been a shooting at Cole Hall.
“My instinct was to get over there and see if I could assist,” said Hudek, who grew up in Downers Grove and now lives in DeKalb.
Hudek ran to the scene and was among the first responders, administering aid to the wounded using the basic First Aid training that he had learned in the military.
Kathy Johnson, Hudek’s supervisor, calls him a hero.
“We were locking down, and Scott literally ran out the door putting his coat on,” she said. “He selflessly assisted emergency personnel without hesitation or concern for his own safety.”
Hudek contacted another veteran, who also came to assist victims that afternoon. He also made arrangements for a counselor from Hines VA Hospital to visit campus and work with students, particularly veterans, who were coping with the tragedy.
Hudek, who is majoring in political science, has demonstrated leadership skills since arriving at NIU in 2007. He is a member of the University Honors Program and serves as executive vice president of the NIU Chapter of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. He also has an impressive record of community service.
“Being a Huskie is about not only excelling academically but bringing others along with you,” Hudek said. “It means reaching out to those who are struggling and making a positive impact in the community.”
Justin Kuryliw grew up as a Huskie. Raised in DeKalb, he has been a huge fan of the school’s athletic teams for as long as he can remember.
Even before enrolling at NIU, he joined the student fan group. By midway through his freshman year he became president of the organization. He reveled in pouring his energy into efforts to increase attendance at games and generate fan support. But after the campus shootings of Feb. 14, 2008, he began to wonder if there wasn’t something more he could do for NIU.
The dean’s list student got his answer last spring while riding a bus home from Virginia Tech, where he and a group of students represented NIU at the one-year anniversary of the shootings there. It was then that he and some friends created Huskies United.
Since then, the group has worked with individual students and organizations to accumulate 500 hours of community service to honor the fallen Huskies – 100 hours of service for each. Projects have included everything from visiting the elderly to a campus bone marrow drive planned for this spring.
In addition to honoring those who died, Kuryliw, a junior who is majoring in business, hopes to also perpetuate the spirit of togetherness that permeated campus in the weeks after the shootings.
“After 2-14, there was such a tremendous feeling of unity and mutual support on campus. Through Huskies United, we hope to make that the norm all of the time,” Kuryliw said. “Our belief is that anything we do to help others brings us closer together.”
Grace Weidner, a sophomore from Gurnee, was in the Cole Hall auditorium when the Feb. 14 shootings took place.
She had spoken with classmate Gayle Dubowski the day before.
“We talked about what we wanted to do with our lives. I told her how I was undecided and didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I mentioned how there was so much to choose from and I didn’t know what I would be good at, if anything. She smiled, looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry; I was in the same spot just a year ago,’ ” Weidner said.
Now Weidner, who has chosen majors in communications and political science, lives in tribute to Dubowksi and the four others lost that day. She no longer dreads attending class or complains about writing papers. She no longer fights back tears the mornings of big tests.
“I no longer can take the privilege of going to college for granted,” she said. “I can’t help but think how much Gayle, Ryanne, Julianna, Catalina or Dan would give to just go one more day to school. Even though I was terrified to step foot in another classroom after the shooting, I promised myself I would go back for the five who could not go back.”
And she dreams – to make a difference for others, to marry, to raise a family, to give her children “as blessed a life as I have been given.”
“This is one of the biggest honors in my life,” she said. “I know it could’ve been a scholarship in honor of me. I know how much these people meant to their families. I know how much they meant to me. I will do exactly what this scholarship was created for: to honor their lives as best I can.”
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