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Grad Student Wins #PayMyTuition Challenge

September 30, 2014

This summer, the viral “ALS Ice Bucket Challenge” changed the way that charities could raise money and promote awareness about disease once millions of people filmed themselves being splashed by ice water. After the success of the viral meme, some college students jokingly started the “Pay My Tuition” challenge, in which wealthy celebrities like Jay-Z and Oprah Winfrey were “nominated” to help with college costs.

Amazingly, Blackboard Inc., an education software developer used by Drexel for its primary web-based course management system, responded to the #PayMyTuition Challenge by holding a contest that would give away $25,000 in scholarships. And even more amazingly, Kathleen Ross, a graduate student in the Epidemiology Department in the School of Public Health, won the top prize of $15,000 to help cover college tuition costs.   

“I have never won anything in my life. It still hasn’t hit me,” Ross said.

In order to earn the scholarship, Ross had to answer the question that Blackboard had posed to all participants: “How will you use your education to make the world a better place?”

Ross’ winning response discussed how her studies helped her develop a health education curriculum to promote healthy lifestyles at an alternative school system for pregnant teenagers and young mothers. She also included a photo reflecting her time in a women’s center in Morant Bay during the summer of 2011 while she was an undergraduate student at Temple University.

“This opportunity allowed me to gain hands-on experience in the field of public health and made me realize I love the field I am getting my degree in,” said Ross, who dreams of fighting disease in third-world countries and conducting epidemiological research.

After she submitted her response just four days before the contest ended, Ross began to promote her submission through friends and family, and then through posting the link to Facebook and Twitter. By the deadline, she was one of the top three students, ultimately receiving 500 more votes than the second place winner with a total of 3,094 votes.

“I owe a big thanks to Blackboard, my family, friends, sorority sisters, acquaintances, coworkers and strangers that voted and shared the link,” she said. “It was exciting watching the votes come in. I was refreshing the contest site every 10 minutes.”

It also helped that the contest rules didn’t require her to be doused with icy water.

“Surprisingly, the ice-bucket challenge didn’t hit my social circle of friends,” she said. “I do believe supporting charities is very important though, so this year I will happily be donating to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.”

After winning the contest, Ross knows that the scholarship will go a long way during her final year of graduate school. She hopes other organizations will step up and follow Blackboard’s lead in showing support for higher education in the future.

“I have loans out covering my tuition costs and I work two part-time jobs to pay my rent, utilities and everything in between,” she said. “I am so grateful to Blackboard for offering this opportunity to ease the burden of student loans.”