Student Stories

Jessica Hicks: An Aspiring Journalist on Her Way Up

  • As a child, Jessica Hicks felt the harsh glare of the news media, and she was scared.

    While family members struggled with substance abuse, some of her private pain was dragged into public view.

    In time, Jessica was moved to the care of her grandparents in Southbury, and in the safety of her new community her perspective changed.

    “I realized at that point that writing was something I wanted to do,” she said. “At first I thought that journalists were out to expose me and intrude on us. But I came to realize the important role they play in trying to bring to light issues that need to be talked about.”

  • Now a journalism and communications major at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, Jessica has embraced the small, close-knit, student body and faculty who have nurtured her passion for “getting to the core of things” through reporting.

    “I grew up loving English and creative writing,” she said, and through investigative reporting and writing opinion pieces for Lehigh’s student-run newspaper, The Brown and White, she’s finding her passion for “going behind the scenes and getting to the truth.”

    “Now I know how to go out there and interview people and it’s helped me think in different ways,” she says. She’s written articles on alumni romance, the intersection between data and the media, and her personal journey after a childhood interrupted by family hardship.

  • In light of her family struggles, just getting to college was a challenge, and in her scholarship application to the Connecticut Community Foundation, she wrote, “In my eyes, receiving a college degree would not only be my way out, but also my way up.”

    The last two years, Jessica has earned scholarships from the Foundation through the Southbury Historical Society Scholarship Fund—awarded annually to a student graduating from Pomperaug High School in Southbury—and the Elizabeth H. Andersen and Nina E. Andersen Scholarship Fund.

    When they established their fund in 1992, sisters Elizabeth and Nina Andersen of Southbury expressed their desire to provide as many students as possible with scholarship aid so they could attend the college of their choice.

  • “The scholarships mean so much to me,” Jessica said. “Without that support, it would be incredibly difficult for me to go to college. I live with my grandparents, and they couldn’t do it themselves. The scholarships give me the opportunity to dive into things I love and will eventually allow me to grow and give back, too.”

    From the generosity of many, college dreams are coming true.

    Photos courtesy of Jessica Hicks.

Brian Luis Aims to Design Prosthetic Limbs

  • Teenaged Brian Luis of Waterbury had never met his young cousin, Daniel, but on a family trip to the Dominican Republic, the 8-year old profoundly changed the course of Brian’s life.

    Daniel’s right leg was amputated as a baby, and, unlike most children in the United States with similar conditions, he did not have access to a prosthetic leg. With his mobility so limited, each day was fraught with falls and frustration in his attempts to navigate home, school, and play.

    Moved by his cousin’s daily struggles and inspired by advances in 3-D technology, Brian resolved to pursue a career in biomechanics to learn the skills to design prosthetic limbs for children like Daniel.

  • “I knew I wanted to affect people in those circumstances,” Brian said. “A goal of mine is to help people in developing countries by giving them access to prostheses so they can move more naturally.”

    Brian also sees the escalating cost of healthcare and aging baby boomers as looming crises in the United States, and worries that growing numbers of older adults may have significant future needs for prostheses but may lack access.

    Through volunteering at a convalescent home, Brian said he “could see society’s lack of help for the elderly” and explained that “it is our responsibility to find solutions.”

  • For the last two years, Brian has received a scholarship to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering at Boston University through the Connecticut Community Foundation’s Charles and Dorothy Greenblatt Scholarship Fund. Charles Greenblatt – who spent his career operating a chain of retail food markets in the Naugatuck Valley – created the fund in 1988 through a provision in his will, specifying that his scholarship fund should help pay the college tuition costs of Waterbury students like Brian.

    “I’m extremely grateful for the scholarship from the Connecticut Community Foundation, and for to Mr. Greenblatt for creating his fund,” Brian said. “My parents always encouraged me to go to college and I have been able to attend one of the best mechanical engineering schools in New England thanks to everyone’s support.”

  • Brian is fresh off a semester studying abroad in Madrid, Spain, and when he’s back on campus in Boston in the fall he will be involved in the student group, “Engineering without Borders.”

    “We will receive biomedical problems affecting real people in developing countries all over the world and groups of students will work on those problems for several weeks at a time,” he said.

    Solutions in hand, several students are selected to travel to those countries for real-world engineering experience.

    Where might this find Brian? “Africa!” he says.

    Photos courtesy of Brian Luis.

Angeline Rosato

  • As the long-time proprietors of Oliver’s Supermarket, George and Mary Oliver were a part of the fabric of the Prospect community. When their daughter, Catherine Livermore, wanted to find a way to honor them, she knew they would want to give something back to their home town. So she created the George M. and Mary Oliver Scholarship Fund at the Connecticut Community Foundation. Thanks to Catherine and other family members, and to the legacy of her parents, for more than 20 years the Oliver Fund has been helping Prospect students like Angeline Rosato get college educations that put them on the road to a bright future. As a student at American University in Washington, D.C., Angeline has taken advantage of the many opportunities offered by the University and the nation’s capital.

  • “I fell in love with DC when I first visited as a student in eighth grade. I’ve known for quite some time that I ultimately want to enter a law enforcement career, and this seemed like the perfect place for me.” Rosato is a student in the three-year Politics, Policy & Law Program and plans to graduate with a double major in Law & Society and Spanish. This summer she interned with the DC Metropolitan Police Department in their Investigative Services Bureau. She has also been an active member of her University community, working in the Department of Public Safety and serving as an editor for a student-run campus magazine. On top of that, she has managed to find time to tutor public school students through the DC Reads program.

  • Angeline credits the George M. and Mary Oliver Fund for the support she’s received, as well as the Raymond R. Gamby Scholarship Fund in memory of Amelia Gamby, which is also held by the Connecticut Community Foundation and supports students of Italian and French descent. “The scholarship support has been such an amazing aid for my family and me. I am one of four siblings, there are two of us at college right now and we currently have only one parent working. This community assistance allows me to focus more on my studies and take advantage of my time in college.” Connecticut Community Foundation is proud to help donors leave a legacy of support for the dreams of area students, and to provide students opportunities that might otherwise be unattainable – Timeless Impact.

Jack Saleeby

  • For as long as CCF scholarship recipient Jack Saleeby can remember, he knew he wanted to be on stage. From the moment he performed the lead singing role in his Kindergarten Christmas pageant, Jack realized that this was where he wanted to be. Beginning with summer theatre camp at age five, “I loved the feeling that I got when I was performing on stage and of creating something meaningful with others,” comments Jack. Throughout his childhood, Jack participated in theatrical summer camp programs and performed in countless local productions, solidifying his career path.

  • “In fifth grade, I performed in a Thomaston Opera House production of RagTime directed by Director Sharon Wilcox. She took me under her wing and was instrumental in influencing my decision to enter a performing arts career.” Jack later attended Waterbury Arts Magnet School, where he received an excellent education and world class theatrical training. “My instructors taught me to become a true artist. They stressed how who I am impacts the role I am playing and what I can bring to a production.”

  • When it was time for college, Jack received important support from the N. Patricia Yarborough Fund, a scholarship fund held and administered by Connecticut Community Foundation. The late Dr. Yarborough – a former CCF trustee and president of Post University – created the fund to support students like Jack who are entering music, art, dance, or theater careers. Jack has put his scholarship support to good use and has excelled as a Theatre Arts Major at Hofstra University. “When I visited Hofstra, I immediately felt at home,” reflects Jack.

  • In addition to performing in many university productions, he has been active in student affairs and has served as a Resident Assistant, Orientation Leader, Admissions Tour Guide, and president of Alpha Psi Omega Theatre Honor Society. Jack is a grateful recipient of the CCF scholarship. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without the support of CCF and the generosity Dr. Yarborough showed so many years ago in creating her fund. For me college is more than an education or a degree. It’s a priceless experience that really shapes the person that I am becoming.” Helping an aspiring actor achieve his life-long dream – Timeless Impact.

Shanna Wall

  • As the child of a parent with a chronic illness, Shanna Wall has dreamed of becoming a nurse for as long as she can remember. “My Father is a diabetic and I saw firsthand how his nurses interacted with him. There is an obvious correlation between their compassion and the patient’s quality of life,” reflects Shanna. Shanna recently graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in nursing from Boston’s Northeastern University. In looking for the right program for her, Shanna made practical experience a top priority. “I chose Northeastern because I was attracted to the unique Co-Op program – all students are required to complete two 6-month full time work experiences.” Shanna credits her ability to attend a private university with the ongoing scholarship assistance she received through several funds that are part of Connecticut Community Foundation’s scholarship program.

  • Among these funds, Shanna received particularly critical support from the Waterbury Women’s Club Scholarship Fund, which has provided scholarships to students pursuing nursing careers for over 20 years. “CCF invested a total of $8,500 in my tuition over four years. I come from a low-income family that had no means to support my college education, so the support from the Foundation was instrumental and essential,” explains Shanna. At Northeastern, Shanna developed both her nursing skills and her interest in women’s issues. During her college career, she worked at the Cardiac Care Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Mother/Infant Unit at Tufts Medical Center, and completed her senior practicum on the Labor and Delivery Unit at Brigham & Women’s Hospital.

  • In addition to gaining work experience, Shanna was honored for her work on a research project involving how the use of smartphone technology might benefit Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) in their work with victims of sexual assault. Her diploma now in hand, Shanna hopes to work as a labor and delivery nurse in a Washington, D.C. area hospital and, eventually, to attend graduate school to become a nurse midwife. Shanna is grateful to the generous donors whose foresight and belief in students like her put her on a path toward realizing her dreams. Thanks to their support as well as her own passion for helping women and natural caring touch, Shanna looks forward to a rewarding nursing career, which will touch countless lives. Helping students realize their dreams – Timeless Impact.

Anastasia Kouloganes

  • As a student at the University of Maryland, New Milford native Anastasia Kouloganes has taken advantage of every opportunity available to her. “I have made an effort to constantly enrich my academic experience and I have promised to never pass up opportunities for personal development.”

  • Anastasia is an ambitious student – she not only has a double major in Chinese Language and Government & Politics, but also a double minor studying International Development/Conflict Management and Global Terrorism. She studied for a year in China, where she honed her Mandarin language ability and took advantage of Chinese political courses. “These classes gave me a rare glimpse into the opinions and viewpoints of the Chinese government, which are invaluable.”

  • Anastasia’s travels also took her to Burkina Faso in West Africa on a service trip with Engineers Without Borders. During the trip, her group evaluated previously installed solar panels and a filtration system providing clean running water for a health center.

  • Anastasia credits the Connecticut Community Foundation with helping her achieve her educational goals. She is a grateful recipient of the Elizabeth H. Andersen and Nina E. Andersen Scholarship Fund and has been awarded more than $10,000 over four years from this fund. “As an out-of state student, tuition costs are high and without the aid of CCF, it would be much harder to finance my education. The scholarship gives me more time to focus on my studies."

  • Following her graduation in 2015, Anastasia plans to continue her studies to achieve full fluency in Mandarin and earn an advanced degree in international relations. Ultimately, she hopes to apply her skills in government service.

Helena Tiedmann

  • In high school, Helena’s high grades may have defined her as a student, but it was her dedication to community service that defined her as a person. While a student at the Westover School, Helena gave back to her high school in many ways: serving on Student council, the Environmental Action Committee, and the Chapel Committee. Helena’s most impressive position came as a Day Student Head of School, a position given to one student who works as a liaison between students and faculty.

  • However, Helena’s sense of service did not end with Westover. As a member of the Warren Congregational Church, she participated in missions to the Dominican Republic and New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

  • Helena’s dedication to the community at large made her desire a school with a “globally conscious environment with a focus on doing one’s part to make the world a better place.” She says that, “Community service has been an important part of my high school career, I have begun to realize that it is something that I will absolutely continue in and after college.”

  • Helena’s sense of community service helped earn her the Warren Congregational Church Scholarship for four years, an award for WCC members involved in church youth ministry. Helena used this award to help pay for her education at Beloit College. She said, “I am so honored and grateful to receive this amazing gift of education.”

Enjana Bylykbashi

  • First in her family to go to college, immigrant and “brainiac,” Enjana Bylykbashi Earns Scholarship to Study Neuroscience. When Enjana (en-ya-na) Bylykbashi of Waterbury recently returned to Boston University for her junior year, she was nervous about her course load especially organic chemistry. “I have heard horror stories about that class!” she said. Based on her 3.7 GPA, the giggly and bright young woman will succeed in all of her classes this year. In fact, it was Enjana’s academic achievements and love of science and math at Wilby High School that earned her a $1,000 scholarship every year for four years from Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in 2010.

  • Her high school math teacher, Department Chair, Frank Spring, recommended Enjana for the scholarship. “When I first met Enjana, she was by far the most dedicated, hard-working and intelligent student in the freshman class. When I had her as a junior in a calculus honors class, she learned so quickly that I moved her up to AP calculus with seniors. She definitely has been one of the most impressive students I have ever encountered at Wilby.”

  • Enjana is the first person in her family to go to college. Her family moved to Waterbury from Albania in 2000 when she was 7½ years old. “My parents knew there would be more opportunities here for us.” At Chase Elementary School, she took English as a Second Language. She had difficulty writing in English, but math was an easy subject for her to understand despite the language barrier.

  • Enjana’s goal has always been to have a career in research or pharmaceuticals. Today, she adds becoming a neurologist to that list. As a neuroscience major, Enjana enjoys that her studies combine biology and psychology to explain human behavior. Whether her career path leads her to medicine or research, Enjana wants to focus on a specific area of the brain or a disease/disorder like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s or autism. “The scholarship I received from Alexion increases my motivation to work harder in school so that I can work for them, or a company like them in the future,” she said.

Justin Gibson

  • In 2004, Justin Gibson of Waterbury, received a scholarship from the In Search of Excellence Fund, started by two Waterbury educators to encourage exceptional achievement among African-American students, and from the Sylvia M. & Isidor Sprecker Fund. The Sprecker Fund awards scholarships to students ranked in the top five percent of Wilby High School’s graduating class who are committed to racial tolerance.

  • Justin wrote in his essay that while a commanding officer of Wilby’s Junior ROTC program, he formed friendships with students of many races. He also played on a soccer team with athletes from six countries, which “has taught me a great deal about life because I have seen how other people live and act.”

  • Justin is now a graduate of Boston College and the University of Connecticut School of Law. He said, “The support from the Connecticut Community Foundation that I have received over the years has allowed me to enjoy success and is essential to the future success of youths in our community.”

Courtney A. Oczkowski

  • Courtney Oczkowski has loved music from a very young age. Being raised by a family of Filipino and Polish descent, she was exposed to many different types of music: from Polka to Broadway to Original Filipino. By age 3, Courtney began playing the piano. “Studying piano at such an early age forced me to understand discipline, responsibility, perseverance, and respect for all kinds of music,” she said.

  • Courtney’s love of music blossomed into a passion for singing. Her musical endeavors have resulted in numerous awards throughout the years including receiving the Michael and Jane Sendzimir Scholarship from CCF. As a student at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, Courtney studied classical voice performance with the internationally renowned Marietta Simpson.

Nirma Rizvic

  • Escape from Bosnia Leads New Milford Student to UMass Amherst. When Nirma Rizvic escaped from Bosnia with her mother in 1992 at the age of one, or even 8 years later when she moved to America and quickly excelled in school, she could not yet have realized how closely tied to her past her future academic and career goals would be. With aspirations to become an attorney and work as a part of the United Nations, it is safe to say her pursuits hold a personal connection. She hopes to one day, “help Bosnians and all people without a home.”

  • As a Social Thought/Political Economy/Law major at UMASS Amherts, Nirma planned to earn a certificate in International Affairs. Upon finishing college, she ultimately wants to obtain her law degree in either the U.S. or Europe. Nirma, who is a resident of New Milford, received scholarship awards from the Elizabeth H. Andersen and Nina E. Andersen Scholarship Fund at CCF.

Michelle St. Germain

  • Michelle St. Germain wants to help as many people as possible by becoming a social worker; “I want to specifically deal with senior citizens, but at any time I would like to be able to help others as well.” Not only does Michelle want to help, but she wants to learn too; “Knowledge is essential in life whether it pertains to a career or just everyday life”. She feels that knowing will make her a more successful, well-rounded person.

  • The more Michelle learns, the more successful she will become. So, as a student of Western Connecticut State University, she took a variety of classes. “Classes like communications, counseling, and contemporary social issues are so detailed that you learn not only about others but about yourself too. You gain a lot of different perspectives about life.” Michelle received scholarships for four years from the Employees Scholarship Fund of Heritage Village.

Jamie Accashian

  • Jamie Accashian is defined by her artwork. She attributes her success in school to art, has made lasting friendships with fellow artists, and serves the community by regularly painting children’s faces at a local carnival. “I persistently strive to be a better artist, because art is my passion,” Jamie said.

  • This passion has earned Jamie numerous awards, including a Gold Key award for her high school art portfolio, an honor reserved for the most promising high school artists across the United States.

  • However, for Jamie, art is not about awards. It is a way of life. Art gives Jamie purpose, individuality, and success. She says that her high school art program “has aroused the creativity that has always been my calling; it has given me a solid place to exercise my creativity and uniqueness, making me a focused and committed student.”

  • CCF supported Jamie’s artistic endeavors by awarding her the Darrell S. Daniels scholarship for students attending a university in the south or southwestern United States. With this award, Jamie studied illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.

Kasey Crampton

  • Kasey Crampton received more than $18,500 over four years from the Naomi Mildred Nicoll Scholarship, an award for female graduates of Wamogo or Litchfield High School who are daughters to single, working mothers. Kasey attended Springfield College, majoring in both Psychology and Early Childhood Education.

  • She says that the past few semesters have been especially demanding. Along with a full course load, Kasey worked part time, had an internship, and was constantly preparing for her teaching examinations. Despite this difficult schedule, Kasey’s devotion to education never wavered. She said, “School was always been very important to me, and I kept working hard to achieve my goals.”

Nicole Maisto

  • When Nicole Maisto helped prepare kindergarteners for first grade, she knew that she wanted to be a teacher; “working with these kids and helping prepare them for school made me feel like I was doing something very important.”

  • Nicole aspires to “teach in CT, maybe even in my hometown of Wolcott. I could be a part of the educational system that helped me achieve my goals.” And given her unique background, Nicole would make a great addition to any teaching staff.

  • During her time at Wolcott High School, Nicole was on the track team, cheerleading squad, prom committee, yearbook committee, and French club. As an active member in her youth church group, she worked on fundraisers, volunteered at homeless shelters, and represented the St. Maria Goretti Church at the New England Catholic Youth Conference.

  • To learn how to take her interests to the classroom, Nicole studied education at Naugatuck Valley Community College with scholarships from the CCF Community College Scholarship Fund. When Nicole transferred to Central Connecticut State University, she received a $2,000 scholarship from the CCF Regional Scholarship Fund.

Michael Mueller

  • Former ‘IBMer’ Returns to School, Gets Back to Programming Roots. Michael Mueller’s career in computer programming took him from coding sonar and combat systems for the U.S. government, to the pastoral town of Southbury when he accepted a job at IBM in 1989. In 2007, due to operational reorganization, Michael’s job was transitioned elsewhere.

  • “It has been a struggle to secure a position in another company,” said Michael. “Providing operational support to IBM applications involved skills that were specific to IBM and not applicable to other companies.” In 2009, the Foundation established the Community College Scholarship Program to better meet the needs of area students seeking scholarships.

  • “It is very important to support students looking to attend our local community colleges,” said trustee Jack Baker. “Whether they are straight out of high school or returning to education, these students will become more skilled and educated members of our local work force and become higher wage earners for their families.” Major funding to establish the Community College Scholarship Program was generously donated by Timex Group USA, Inc. in Middlebury, an anonymous donor, and other individual and corporate donors.

  • Among the first group of Community College Scholarship recipients, Michael was able to get back to his programming roots to make himself more marketable. He entered the “Object Oriented Programming” certificate program at Naugatuck Valley Community College last fall. As a part-time student, Michael will complete his 18 credits and earn his certificate in May 2010. “I feel more qualified to move ahead and apply for programming positions with local companies now,” he said. “My wife and I love living in Southbury. Our daughter just started high school. I did not want to leave the area to find employment elsewhere.”

Heather Goscinski

  • Entering her junior year as an Art Education major, everything had been going Heather Goscinski’s way: she had passed the rigorous process of an art portfolio review, been accepted into CCSU teaching program, and achieved 6 consecutive semesters on the Dean’s List.

  • However, all was not well. Despite her successes, Heather discovered that she was six credits short of graduation. She had to take summer courses to graduate on time.

  • Even worse, these summer courses were not included in a student’s regular tuition; “These two courses were an extra expense,” Heather said.

  • Fortunately for Heather, she had some help. She received scholarships for four years from the Jack and Vivian Hanson Scholarship Fund. By taking advantage of CCF’s renewable awards, Heather was able to better afford her unexpected situation.

Kyle Brennan

  • Kyle Brennan received the Rybinski Scholarship as a communications student at Quinnipiac University. The Rybinski scholarship is awarded to students from Beacon Falls who attend Woodland Regional High School and have given back to their community.

  • The people who supported Kyle as a young athlete in town inspired him to give back to his community. “When I was younger and playing in the sports leagues, I enjoyed myself immensely. I didn’t realize that my enjoyment was made possible by volunteers who donated their time. After I was done playing, I began volunteering as well.”

Megan Woodruff

  • Megan Woodruff always wanted to go to college. Her longtime desire for education, coupled with a small town upbringing, attracted Megan to the quaint campus of Nichols College. Though Nichols College was her first choice, she did not rush into a commitment. “I still applied to nine different schools. I needed to make sure that the school I went to was right for me.”

  • It wasn’t until attending an athletic open house that Megan had made her decision; “I could not see myself attending any other school. After that night I did not want to go home. I felt like I was home.” And while Megan had found the school of her dreams, she needed help affording tuition. “I knew that I could be successful at Nichols College, but I would need financial aid.”

  • Megan received $8,000 in scholarships over four years from CCF's Regional Scholarship Fund. She said, “Applying for scholarships has paid off. I was able to attend the school of my dreams.”

More Student Stories

  • Jessica Hicks: An Aspiring Journalist on Her Way Up
  • Brian Luis Aims to Design Prosthetic Limbs
  • Angeline Rosato
  • Jack Saleeby
  • Shanna Wall
  • Anastasia Kouloganes
  • Helena Tiedmann
  • Enjana Bylykbashi
  • Justin Gibson
  • Courtney A. Oczkowski
  • Nirma Rizvic
  • Michelle St. Germain
  • Jamie Accashian
  • Kasey Crampton
  • Nicole Maisto
  • Michael Mueller
  • Heather Goscinski
  • Kyle Brennan
  • Megan Woodruff