Author, Confessions of a Scholarship Winner (2013)
Founded Ellis Marketing with Fortune 500 companies as her clientele
Recognized as a Gates Millennium Scholar, a U.S. Presidential Scholar and a Coca-Cola National Scholar
Former Miss Indiana Teen USA
Earned two Junior Olympics gold medals in gymnastics
B.S. from Vanderbilt University
Finish College Debt Free
A NEW NORMAL
Kristina was born into a happy family. Her dad was a small-town man from Indiana who loved music and built guitars. Her mother was from Venezuela and moved to America to go to college. When her parents met they fell in love and got married. Her family did not have a lot of money, but they were comfortable and happy until her life was turned upside down. When Kristina was three her father was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Over the next few years, Kristina, her mom, and her older brother helped to care for her dad as he endured seizures, chemotherapy treatments and trips to the hospitals. He died when she was seven leaving them to face the reality of life without him. “My mom needed to work a lot harder to keep our family financially afloat now that my dad’s income was gone,” shares Kristina. Explosive arguments between her mom and brother were frequent as they all tried to adjust to life without their dad .Kristina stuffed her emotions deep inside and started taking out all her pain and frustration on the one thing she knew she could control: her body. In middle school, she developed self-destructive behaviors such as anorexia, bulimia, and cutting. “I learned how to mask my feelings and emotions in front of others, knowing that I would soon be able to release the pain once I was alone,” shares Kristina. The destructive behaviors continued until one night Kristina decided that the world would be better off without her so she decided to end her life. As she began the final assault on her body the phone started to ring. It was her Aunt Tonna. They talked for two hours on the phone that night about absolutely nothing, but it drew Kristina out of the dark place she was in. The next day Kristina woke up with the desire to live. “Waking up and realizing how far I had gone – realizing that my aunt had unknowingly rescued me from myself – scared me straight,” shares Kristina. She decided to abandon her patterns of self-abuse and began replacing them with positive ones. Instead of keeping her emotions inside, Kristina began journaling her feelings and helping others who were struggling. She even began to believe that maybe God had a plan for her life after all.
FIGURING OUT THE FUTURE
On Kristina’s first day of high school she had a conversation with her mom that would change her life. Her mom told her, “You have four years to figure out what you’re going to do with your life because you are on your own financially after graduation.” Kristina was caught off guard by her mom’s words. Then her mom explained, “You are not meant to live in poverty your whole life, and I know that if you work hard you can go to a great college and start fresh. The choices you make right now will impact you for the rest of your life.” Kristina credits that conversation with motivating her to work towards her goals. She and her mom began brainstorming different ways she could begin building her qualifications as a scholarship applicant. After many late nights and hard work, Kristina began to see some success. She won two Junior Olympics gold medals for gymnastics, raised enough money to travel to Haiti for missions work, and became one of the fastest runners in her high school. Kristina also spent countless hours in the library researching the scholarship process.
Then in the spring of her freshman year Kristina was selected to participate in the Miss Indiana Junior Teen pageant. She was shocked and overjoyed when she won. Unfortunately, when she returned home her friends spread vicious rumors about Kristina because they were jealous of the attention she had received. They called her names, spit
On her, and left threatening notes in her locker. By her junior year, Kristina no longer let the harsh words of those around her impact her any longer. She could not be swayed from her dreams of a future. Kristina credits God and her family that she was never without the strength to get back up again. She continued to apply for scholarships and position herself as scholarship-worthy by putting in over 1,000 hours of community service in high school, building up her gymnastics team to 45 members and winning a cross country award.
Her hard work paid off! Kristina was selected as one of Coca-Cola's National Scholars and awarded a $20,000 scholarship for college. Then she was contacted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship Foundation. They told her she had been selected as a recipient of their prestigious scholarship which offered a free ride to any school through her PhD. She attended Vanderbilt University for free with the Gates Scholarship and it also funded her master’s degree at Belmont University. Kristina will begin her PhD program at Vanderbilt in the fall of 2014. “I can look back at the struggles now and see how each one made me stronger and more capable of success in the future,” reflects Kristina. In college, Kristina’s spiritual life developed. She joined a non-denominational group where she learned how to develop a personal relationship with the Lord. “I fell in love with the Lord during college,” shares Kristina.
SECRETS OF DEBT-FREE COLLEGE
Kristina wants to share what she has learned with other students because college can change student’s lives. She offers the following organizing tips for future scholarship winners:
- Keep records – create a filing system to keep track of which scholarships you are applying for will help alleviate stress when you start to hit deadlines.
- Post deadlines – keep a list of your deadlines posted somewhere that you’ll see every day. Be sure to update your list each time you apply for a new scholarship. Set alerts on your phone or computer for deadlines.
- Don’t delay – try not to wait until the last minute to send in your application.
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