Tuesday Feb 04, 2014
The decision to change one’s career can be daunting enough, if not for the financial burden that has the power to dash the dream altogether. Fortunately, as it did for Christopher Lukasik, scholarships can come to the rescue.
The 33-year-old from Rensselaer, Ind., had worked for 12 years as an electrician until the construction industry slowed, prompting him to rethink his career.
He enrolled at Indiana University Northwest in hopes of getting a degree that would quickly segue into a new career. But after taking a couple of classes, the married father of two decided on a longer, more challenging route that will ultimately be more rewarding for him. Now a junior, he has his sights set on dental school.
But a bachelor’s degree, followed by a dental degree, comes with a much higher price tag. Especially for career-changers like Lukasik, the ability to pay for higher education seems to lessen in tandem with the increase of family and other obligations.
“We were getting to the point where we really didn’t know how we were going to start covering the costs,” Lukasik said. “At some point, it doesn’t become economically feasible for you to take out those loans and ever expect to be able to pay them back. You reach a breaking point and you have to make a decision on whether you can keep going forward or not. “
Still fixed on his goals despite the financial burden, Lukasik had decided he was going to try to get accepted into dental school without having earned a bachelor’s degree first, something very few can accomplish, in order to shave a year off his tuition bill.
“The chances were slim that I could go that route,” he said.
Then, his academic achievements earned him a recommendation from now-retired Professor of Chemistry Atilla Tuncay, Ph.D., for the BP Scholarship, awarded to two outstanding chemistry students each year.
“If it gets renewed for my senior year, that offsets all my bills that would be accrued for that year,” Lukasik said. “It allows me to do that senior year without having to worry about the cost of it.”
Opportunities like this are made possible by corporations like BP America, whose Whiting-based oil refinery has been a vital contributor to Northwest Indiana’s communities since the late 1800s. Giving back to its communities, including educational support, is a vital part of BP’s mission.
“Corporate citizenship and social responsibility are a major component of what we believe in,” said Thomas Keilman, director of Government and Public Affairs for BP’s Whiting Refinery, which spans three cities in Northwest Indiana.
Now going on his 16th year at BP, Keilman said the BP scholarship was established long before he arrived at BP. He estimates that 20 to 30 percent of BP’s philanthropy is related to education, all the way down to the pre-K level. The idea is that investing in education, at all levels, ultimately builds stronger communities.
Keilman urges other community leaders and residents to support local endeavors to build human capacity and local economic development.
“We look to provide leadership, and we are major funders, but we need the entire business community to be engaged,” Keilman said, “not only with funding, but also with their knowledge and support. Others in the local business community need to be engaged in various boards and to support community initiatives in whatever ways they can. This not only strengthens the community, but it strengthens the people within their organizations that participate. They get a deeper and better understanding of their community through their participation and all these various endeavors.”
“It’s all about doing something that is a positive force for good in our communities,” Keilman said. “The scholarships we provide, not only for IU Northwest students, but through our other programs, assist in that effort.”
Keilman reminds his colleagues at neighboring business, large and small, that supporting education through scholarships is one of the most impactful ways to strengthen a community.
“Education is the basic bedrock and foundation in terms of providing an individual with the capability to advance themselves and provide a good standard of living for themselves and their family,” Keilman said. “I know that what I’m involved in at BP does make a difference in Northwest Indiana. Scholarships are just one component of that. It really does make a difference in people’s lives.”
Lukasik can certainly attest to that.
“When you have scholarships available to you, it allows for you to really want to do what you want to do with your life as far as a career,” he said. “Having these companies or individuals realize that and help to provide the means necessary to get your education, it is really important and helpful and it provides the ability for someone like me to go to school.”
By “someone like me,” Lukasik means a student returning to school after somewhat of a hiatus. Often, he explained, scholarships are earmarked for high achievers right out of high school. Despite his pre-college academic achievement and top SAT scores, Lukasik was no longer eligible for those awards. The BP scholarship helped bridge that gap.
Despite the 45-minute drive to campus from his home, Lukasik said he chose IU Northwest because of its focus on medical fields and on his wife’s recommendation.
“That led me there from the get-go,” Lukasik said, “but I’ve had so many professors who have been helpful and great. It’s a great school. The professors care. Everyone has been helpful. I like the small nature of the campus. It has a real personal feel to it. It was a great choice.”