“This program was perfect for me. I’ve been saving for college since I was three years old.” Michaela Starkey, a junior at Arizona State University, is not only a natural-born saver but also a survivor of a very difficult childhood. Her dream of going to college was realized after discovering the Earn to Learn program and a scholarship through the Armstrong Family Foundation.

Spending much of her childhood in foster care, she found comfort and stability in depositing money into a savings account that she opened when she was just eight years old. “I would walk through a parking lot and pick up the pennies I found. These pennies and anything else that was given to me were saved and I never spent a dime. I opened my first bank account when I was eight years old with $35 worth of pennies!”

As a natural saver, she found the beginning of adulthood a challenge. “When I was 16 I graduated high school early and earned my first paycheck. I realized that the money would be needed to pay bills and I would have to start spending.” This was around the same time that she joined the Earn to Learn program and she liked that it refocused her on saving for college.

Michaela was already well on her way to knowing what she wanted to study at ASU. “I’ve always enjoyed math. It’s black and white and I found peace in the stability of it. My childhood was pretty wishywashy, but I’m right-brained and a logical thinker so I looked for things that made sense to me. My Grandma always said that I would become a lawyer, but engineering uses both my skills in math and my interest in science.” Michaela is studying industrial engineering at ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Here she gets involved in many academic, social and service-oriented activities. As an Armstrong Family Foundation scholar, Michaela also has traveled to Mexico and Costa Rica to do community service. Through the University Service Learning program, she helped to build biodigestors for rural families in the mountains of Costa Rica. “I enjoyed giving back and learning about Costa Rica where they have a free education system through college. It sounds nice, but they have their share of problems. You have to take an exam to be admitted. If you don’t pass there aren’t many second chances.”

Michaela shared her own frustration in the college application process after being rejected for many of the scholarships and grants she applied for as she attempted to realize her dream. “I submitted about 55 separate applications, but nothing came through. Then my Grandma found Earn to Learn and things started looking up.” Despite a tumultuous upbringing, her grandmother was a constant in her life. “She supported the idea of saving, following my dreams, but also making sure they were realistic. I am doing all of this for her, but also for me so that I can give back to her and show her that all her efforts have paid off.”

Michaela’s resume of activities and accomplishments, paired with a positive and optimistic attitude, are extremely impressive. When she is not giving back or hitting the books hard, Michaela can be found working to create a greater sense of community on the ASU campus. As a student employee she supports the Devils on Mill tailgate event. “I get to connect to my inner Sun Devil while helping to create the best tailgate event ever.” She also works as a Community Assistant through ASU’s on-campus housing program. “I love my job and the opportunity to help freshman students in the engineering program. As a junior I have the perspective to give them the tools they need to be successful. It’s like a summer camp that never ends.” It is certain that Michaela is the perfect person to help students persevere and take on the grand challenges that college brings to students.

Posted on: January 12, 2017