BY TUMA HAJI
Nearly three years ago, junior Ryan Skotzke was sitting on the toilet when the National Alumni Scholarship organization called to give him the news that would change the course of his college career. The 4.0 GPA high school student with an impressive score of 35 on the ACT had not anticipated a full ride to the university of his dreams. The prestigious National Alumni Scholarship was the one thing that made it possible for Skotzke to pursue his passion for actuarial science at Drake University.
Skotzke acknowledged early on that his life would differ from the typical college student who must worry about financing their education. However, the lift of the financial burden did not absolve Skotzke from self-accountability.
“It also feels like it comes with a lot of responsibility, too, because now that you’re given this great award and honor, you feel like, ‘Well, now I really have to put my foot down and take my college experience to the next level and do something that really makes a difference,’” Skotzke said.
Skotzke said he was clueless about which element in his application secured him the award, but is certain that his expressive extra-curricular resume played a determining role. Like all contestants, Skotzke was required to have at least a 3.8 GPA, an ACT score of 35, two essays and a personal interview.
As someone who has always been passionate about math, Skotzke added data analytics to complement his actuarial science major.
Skotzke mentors National Alumni contestants and awardees, but said it’s difficult to give them one, single note of advice.
“I feel like the college experience is so much different for so many different people, so (my) advice to them is usually, and this might sound a bit generic, but sort of just figure out what your passion is and pursue it. You have to try a lot of different things before you find what is right for you,” Skotzke said.
He said he’s been taking his own advice for the past three years and is happy with where it’s led him. He joined Gamma Iota Sigma, a business fraternity that has helped him build connections. He credits a member of his fraternity with helping him start his first internship. Skotzke is part of the pricing team for the life and annuity products at Farm Bureau.
“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “But that’s what I like about it. I feel like I’ve learned as much about being an actuary there as I have in all of my schoolwork.”
One of Skotzke’s hidden hobbies turns out to be broadcasting his own radio show on 94.1 The Dog the past two years. Although he confesses that his parents are his only consistent fans, he still pursues the hobby. His parents’ support goes deeper than just listening to their son’s show. Skotzke credits them with the successes he’s celebrated throughout his life.
“They’ve always been very strict with me, but I give them a lot of credit for that because I don’t think I’d be anywhere near where I am now if it weren’t for them lighting a fire under me and constantly nagging me to get my work done and stay on top of things,” he said.
Nearly three years after Skotzke received the National Alumni Scholarship, another Drake student also received the call that changed her college career. Maddie Topliff from Grinnell, Iowa was getting ready to go to work at Subway when her phone rang. She recalled being in a state of disbelief that she had been awarded the scholarship and kept asking the caller if they were kidding.
“There were so many people who’d applied, like over 300 people, so I was really thankful and said thank you a million times,” Topliff said with a laugh. “I immediately called my mom because she was at work already and told her.”
Like Skotzke, Drake’s expensive tuition was a hindering factor for Topliff.
“Being able to lift some of the financial burden from my parents was really gratifying, and I was really proud of that because my parents have provided for me my whole life and to kind of pay them back in that way with a scholarship really meant a lot to me and my family,” Topliff said.
Topliff said her time as a state thespian officer formed and solidified her strong leadership skills, which she believes helped her in the competition.
Topliff is majoring in public relations with a minor in Spanish. She is involved in a wide range of activities and organizations, including Drake University Community Choir, Student Activities Board, Delta Gamma and the Student Alumni Association. She is also booked to be a resident assistant next year.
Addi Weakley, a friend of Topliff’s, proudly commented on her strong personality.
“Maddie is a go-getter. She’ll go out there, and she’s always super energetic, and if there’s something to do, she’s going to find a way to do it,” Weakley said.
Topliff advises future National Alumni applicants to have faith in what they’ve accomplished.
“You put the work in all four years of high school and the (interviewers) are going to see that,” she said. “Just be yourself, because if they can’t tell who you are, then why would they give you a scholarship?”