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Star Wars, a droid, and the battle to earn a college scholarship

Hennepin Tech student Stephen Stolberg with machine

Brooklyn Park, April 28, 2022 -- When college students apply for scholarships, they are often required to write an essay. 

In 2021, Hennepin Technical College student Steven Stolberg was competing to earn a scholarship provided by a business. For his essay, Stephen wrote an emotional and detailed account about the obstacles he has overcome. Here is Steven’s scholarship essay.

Steven Stolberg, student, Hennepin Technical College
Essay for the Travers Tool Scholarship

As a child, I was the kid that was constantly building with colorful Legos to create whatever I had imagined. I was raised by my grandparents who graciously took in my two siblings and myself. My grandmother used to buy me endless Lego sets that created a mirage of Star Wars replicas.

I distinctly remember her breaking my star destroyer made up of thousands of tiny Lego pieces. She looked at my frustrated young face and told me “You did that too fast. Make it again”, and I did. Miraculously, this did not make me want to quit building things. This only pushed me to get better at my creations, to be faster. Creating with Legos is one of the many things that led to me becoming a machinist.

You would think that my grandmother’s loving way of destroying my Lego sets would have discouraged me, but it didn’t. I continued to build with Legos, eventually moving on to fixing my family’s broken sinks, repairing my grandparent’s vehicles, and fixing or welding various different things on a farm.

Working with my hands became my hobby and is now my career. I took every opportunity to take hands-on classes. I consistently thrived in classes that had me building or fixing things. I took autos so many times in high school that by my senior year, I was helping the teacher teach the class. I was also involved in a program in my final year of high school that allowed me to attend a technical college for free. I instantly loved being in a school that allowed me to work with my hands rather than sitting at a desk all day.

Problems with scholarship applications

After high school, I ended up working for a machine shop in Fridley where I learned more about becoming a machinist. I decided that I wanted to go to school for it. I only had one thing standing in my way -- how would I pay for it?

(NOTE: FAFSA is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and it is a lengthy form required to receive financial aid for college.)  

I filled out my required portion of the FAFSA and was then prompted to fill out my parents’ information. I have yet to even meet my father and my mother left my siblings and me with our grandparents years ago. Because my grandparents never legally adopted me, they were not my legal guardians and could not fill out the FAFSA for me.

I reached out to my mother to ask her to fill it out, making it very clear that I did not want her to pay for anything, I just wanted to be able to qualify for some financial aid. She flat out refused. After quite a bit of back and forth between various FAFSA employees, I learned that I could not finish my application without information about a parent’s income. Without a FAFSA application, I am not eligible for most scholarships, grants, loans, or financial aid.

Why a scholarship is important to me

I had grown up in poverty with my grandparents and I did not want that to be my future. So, I worked my butt off. I worked as many overtime hours as I could. I worked weekends, saved every penny I could, sold some of my belongings, and poured it all into college. Currently, I am going to school full time at Hennepin Tech in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and I am working as much as possible. I have paid for absolutely everything upfront.

I want to end my family’s poverty from my generation on. My future family will not have to scrape together enough quarters for a meal like I did. This is because of my tenacity and dedication. My family is not able to financially help me through college. I need to pay for everything on my own while still paying my bills on time. I am asking for this tooling scholarship because I truly do not have the extra money to buy the tooling myself. If I could, I would.

This tooling would help me to become a better machinist at work. My whole life has led up to me becoming a machinist. The ten year old boy building Star Wars ships didn’t know it then, but creating things was going to be his future. Working with his hands was going to be his way out of poverty. Regardless of who you decide to give this grant to, I feel lucky to have even gotten this far. Just a few years ago, I would have never imagined getting a well-paying job, much less going to college as well. I am blessed to have gotten so far.

Update from Hennepin Technical College: When the Hennepin Technical College Foundation learned about Stephen’s difficulties with FAFSA, the Foundation Board reviewed its scholarship process and decided that the FAFSA information is no longer a requirement on its application.

Other organizations that award scholarships continue to require FAFSA. For students who are dealing with financial challenges, Hennepin Technical College provides financial advising for students who need assistance.

Update from Travers Tool Scholarship: In addition to his essay, Steven also submitted a description of a machine tool project that he completed. His project is known as a droid because it appears similar to a Star Wars character. Based on his project and essay, Steven was awarded the scholarship, which did not require FAFSA. Congratulations Steven!

Last updated by mdibba : 2022-04-28 11:11:45