This post comes from Jaaz Catterall, a student staff member in our office. Jaaz is studying at MSU on a generous full-ride scholarship. This financial freedom allowed for some very interesting summer adventures, which we've asked him to share. Enjoy!

The Intro

As the son of a teacher and the oldest of eight children, my parents won’t, don’t, and can’t pay for me to go to school, which means I had to find my own way. The STARR scholarship means I don’t have to mortgage my future and spend every waking hour working to do that. 

Being free from stress over how to pay for school also leaves me free to be more flexible and do things I actually want to do during the summer. After freshman year, I went to my brother’s graduation in Wyoming and visited the rest of my family at our new home in Oregon. Last summer, I again visited my family before driving back across the country to work in East Lansing. Instead of working double or triple shifts at multiple jobs to save money for loans, I worked 7-8 hours per day at the University Scholarships and Fellowships office while also settling into my new off-campus house. Although I didn’t make much money either summer, I was able to spend quality time with quality people and get some office experience at a job I still have today.

The Summer, Part 1

This year, however, I decided to do something more impressive. I decided to do something I could look back on when I’m older and say “Wow, I did that?” I decided it was time to see the world.

Then I decided seeing the world in a few weeks was a little too ambitious and narrowed it down a bit.

After settling on a locale to explore, my roommate and I bought tickets to Iceland at the beginning of spring semester (fun fact: it costs less to fly roundtrip to Iceland than to Oregon). We originally planned to hitchhike and camp our way around the country, but as we added first one, then a couple more friends to the group we decided to rent a car instead--we doubted drivers would be eager to pick up even three shivering college kids, let alone the group of five we ended up becoming. We kept the camping part, though, fully aware of how ridiculous it seemed to spend two weeks outside in a nation literally named after ice. We are #rugged #adventurers #stupidcollegekids

On May 9th, three of us piled into my car and drove eastward, heading for Boston. Following a one-day pit stop in Buffalo, our group of four boarded a plane headed for Keflavik, Iceland, where we picked up our car and stuffed it full of everything we’d brought for two weeks of camping...which mostly included food. Lots of food. After meeting up with the fifth member of our party in Reykjavik, we crammed her into the car and set off on our adventure: five of us, fifteen days in a car and fourteen nights spent wherever we pulled off the road, plus countless packages of ramen and jars of peanut butter. The stuff of legend, really. 

As fun as this trip was, it seriously dented my meager attempt at a savings account. And I’m being nice to myself when I say dented. While I’m proud of how cheaply we pulled it off, two weeks abroad is gonna cost you no matter how careful you are. This was absolutely not the sort of thing I could’ve done if I was paying my own way through school, but the STARR turned a financially-disastrous, irresponsible waste of money into a financially-okay, wonderful life experience.

The Summer, Part 2

While I wanted to do something adventurous and memorable this summer, I also wanted to do something that would help prepare me for life after my undergraduate career is over: something that would give me experience, teach me new skills, and look great on a resume or grad school application. 

I spent three weeks at a Stanford summer program before my senior year of high school and, until very recently, they were the best three weeks of life. This summer, I returned as a residential counselor and helped lead two sessions of that same program. Like my trip to Iceland, and the subsequent two-week trek across the United States to get to Stanford (a story for another time), this wouldn’t have been possible for me without the financial security the STARR provides.

After my roommate and I applied in early February, I didn’t hear back for an interview until April and didn’t have the job locked down until right before school ended. This was fine for me, and it would’ve been fine if I was a Stanford student already planning to spend my summer there, like many of the counselors. For my roommate, however, this was too late: needing to have an internship and source of income secured upon our return from Iceland, he had already accepted two positions here in East Lansing. Knowing that I didn’t need to earn a substantial sum this summer and could always fall back on my part-time office job, I could afford to hold out and keep all my eggs in the Stanford basket.

I embraced my RC role at Stanford, which was something of an RA/TA/camp counselor combo position. I spent over 40 hours each week showing my kids around campus, sitting in on lectures, leading study sessions and field trips, and playing capture the flag. Another 30+ hours were spent on general babysitting, making sure the house was running smoothly and keeping them from breaking the dorm (or themselves). In addition to my role with the kids, I grew close to my co-counselors and worked with and learned from the professors. This was especially great for me, as--for right now, at least--a professor is pretty high on the list of things I want to be when I grow up. Besides enjoying myself every day for six weeks, it was amazing to know that I was playing a part in helping a couple hundred students have the same type of experience I had as a wee lad. My time at Stanford was, with no exaggeration, a dream job: I gained experience, made connections, earned a decent amount of money, and had a ton of fun.

So, long story short, I had the adventure of my lifetime (so far) and followed it up with a fantastic work experience that didn’t even feel like work. Even after living it, it’s hard for me to believe all that awesome stuff--and much more--happened in the last few months. And it seriously (honestly, obviously, legitimately, literally, etc.) would not have been possible without the insane scholarship the STARR Foundation has given me.

Jaaz standing in a valley, next to a river beside his tent.

Jaaz, reading in a sleeping bag with a bathroom sink in the foreground and a view of snow-covered mountains out the open door.

Jaaz, in the center, with four friends standing on a scenic overlook.

Jaaz and his brother.

Jaaz and four of his siblings.
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