From Homeless to NASA — Golis Scholarship leads to SEBA Student’s Successes

Unbeknownst to the Saint Mary’s College community (including the Golis family), Golis Entrepreneurial Scholarship winner Kylie Vandenson, 22, ‘18, was in a tough place when she first applied.

Kylie Vandenson, and her mother, Mechelle VandensonUnbeknownst to the Saint Mary’s College community (including the Golis family), Golis Entrepreneurial Scholarship winner Kylie Vandenson, 22, ‘18, was in a tough place when she first applied. She had written her scholarship application from a hotel lobby. At the time, her family was struggling to find housing. They were bouncing around various different hotels in the East Bay. She had spent the summer interning at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in southern California on the Edwards Air Force Base. When she came back to the Bay Area, her family was in the process of securing a more permanent housing arrangement and was burdened with uncertainty. “It was a very difficult transition going from an incredible life experience at NASA, one that broadened the scope of my career possibilities, to the harsh realities of facing homelessness,” said Vandenson.

When Vandenson shared this personal story in front of a SEBA advisory board meeting at Google HQ in San Francisco,  assembled to talk about Dean Zhan Li's new SEBA scholarship initiative, her struggle touched everybody in the room. The story was eye-opening for the advisory board members, some who have college-age children of their own.

Christina Shubat Christina Shubat, 21, who worked five jobs at the time she received the scholarship, was also a Golis Entrepreneurial Scholarship winner. Last Autumn, at the start of her junior year, Shubat was debating whether or not to take out a large loan from her bank to attend college, which would mean that she would graduate with massive debt after college.  She knew that graduating as soon as possible would be most beneficial to her, that way she could start her career and reduce her debt immediately.

She decided the only way to do this was to take on five part-time jobs, overloading herself with five courses to help pay off her college debt and get the best education she could from the College.  “It has been very difficult maintaining my schedule this way,” Shubat told the group.

After Shubat applied for and received the Golis Entrepreneurial Scholarship,  she met with Matt and Traci and realized there were opportunities for her in the Bay Area during and after college. “I used to think,” said Shubat, “one day in the future I will make a difference in the lives of others,” but that day seemed far away. Now that day has already come for her. “Matt and Traci have made such a difference in my life,” she said.

The Golis award is given to students with cumulative GPA’s of 3.0 or higher who demonstrate an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit during their time at Saint Mary’s College. It is available to any student. Because of their hardwork and dedication, a second Golis award of $10,000 will go to both Shubat and Vandenson. 

In the fall of 2016 and with the support of his advisory board, Dean Zhan Li first launched a $500,000, two-year scholarship initiative.  The goal was to raise $250,000 for scholarship support in each of the fiscal years of 2017 and 2018.  In its first year the initiative was successful as the Board raised over $280,000 in scholarship funds.

“It's the first time the SEBA advisory board has ever had a goal like this,” said Whidden. “This is a huge celebration of our students and what we are trying to do to help alleviate the debt load for them. We don't want any student coming with a burden that keeps them from flourishing in the Saint Mary's community."

The SEBA Scholarship Initiative fits into the campus-wide scholarship initiative. The Dean and President initiated the fund to raise money on behalf of SEBA and the college as a whole. A special Presidential reception on August 17, 2017 was held at President Donahue’s house on campus with the students and the advisory board members, to celebrate the success of making more than half of the bi-annual goal of $500,000. The student’s stories were a major influence in helping to raise $280,000 from donors.

What both students have in common is their desire to pursue entrepreneurship in business, as well as their ability to overcome obstacles to achieve success.

For Vandenson, the Golis Scholarship did more than provide financial relief; it opened a door that was completely unexpected.  The scholarship provided enough assistance to allow her to take a January Term travel class and fulfill a life-long dream of studying abroad. In January and February 2017, she took an Empowered Writing class in Nanyuki, Kenya while staying at the Daraja Academy, a secondary boarding school for girls. She became fully immersed in Kenyan culture and was accepted into a community that will forever be ingrained in her heart. She also published an article for NASA, at a second internship there this summer. 

“The Golis scholarship changed my life,” said Vandenson. “I would not be where I am today without that scholarship. The funds have allowed me to remain focused on my education rather than life’s obstacles that are beyond my control,” she said.