Marissa Jacks was recently awarded a STARR Charitable Foundation Scholarship by Michigan State University.
IRON RIVER—To many who know her, Marissa Jacks has a maturity beyond her 18 years.
She’s poised, she’s responsible, and she’s driven.
Plus, she’s got the worrying thing down pat.
For the last several months, Jacks had been doing a lot of that as her high school days dwindle to a precious few. Last summer, the West Iron County senior decided that Michigan State University was her desired destination for the next four years. But before long, reality started to creep into the fantasy.
“How in the world am I going to pay for this?”
A common thought for high school seniors these days to be sure. But to Jacks, the financial apprehension built and built and built.
After all her efforts in the classroom that have resulted in a 3.98 grade point average; all her time spent in leadership positions in various clubs; and all her time spent working at a local hardware store since junior high school, Jacks wondered if she would be left scrambling for money to fulfill her dream of being the first member of her family to attend a university.
So when her phone rang on March 4 (one day after her 18th birthday), Jacks’ heart jumped. Four months prior, she had applied for a STARR Charitable Foundation Scholarship, established by an anonymous private donor to provide educational opportunities for students from Wyoming and the Upper Peninsula.
Tania Kurzawa, MSU’s admissions counselor for the U.P., was about to deliver some life-changing news, for better or worse.
“There’s a moment when you’re not sure if you want to answer because it’s either good news or bad news, and you don’t know which way was it’s going to go,” Jacks said.
“So I kind of freaked out for a minute. And then I answered the phone.”
Kurzawa’s tone was nondescript at first, just making small talk. Not a good start.
Then Kurzawa delivered the news.
“I just wanted to let you know that you got the scholarship.”
And then Jacks lost it.
“I don’t think she understood another thing I said in that conversion because I started bawling,” Jacks said.
Jacks had basically just been awarded a six-figure gift from the STARR Foundation to pay all regular costs, including tuition, fees, books, room and board and incidental expenses for eight semesters at MSU.
Who could blame her for that spontaneous, exuberant release of pent-up apprehension?
“I didn’t know how I was going to afford it. It’s always been my dream to go to college and get a degree and get a good job. Having all that stress taken off my shoulders … I can’t explain it. Just knowing I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to pay for the next semester. I couldn’t be more happy. It’s such an honor.”
Just like that, she became one of a select few to be awarded the scholarship since its inception in 1998. Eighty-five scholarships have been awarded all together, just nine from the U.P.
So Jacks stands in select company. Her National Honor Society advisor and former English teacher, Michelle Malmquist, has known Jacks since she first came across her back in seventh grade English class.
Malmquist said Jacks, the daughter of Rebecca and Matthew Jacks, stood out almost from the start.
“Even back then you could see it,” said Malmquist, who now teaches 10th and 11th grade English at West Iron. “I was very impressed with her demeanor, with how she carried herself as a person. She was a model student.”
Jacks also displayed an early aptitude for leadership. She eventually went on to be the vice president of her high school class all four years, treasurer of the Student Council for a year, treasurer of the Key Club for one year, vice president of the Forest Club for a year and member of the National Honor Society.
She is also a member of the West Iron Business Club, the Caspian-Gaastra Fire Department Auxiliary and has done annual work at Red Cross blood drives.
Throw in her job at Bigari’s Ace Hardware (part-time during the school year, full-time during the summer) and Jacks is a busy young lady.
“Yeah, I’m tired all the time,” Jacks said with a laugh. “I stay up late, till 12 or sometimes later. Not by choice all the time, I just have a lot of things to get done.”
It’s that work ethic, among other things, that earned Jacks a work-study position at the Polich Law Office in late 2013. It was there that she became interested in criminal psychology, her intended area of study at MSU.
Jacks hopes her example can prove to be an inspiration to other students who carry dreams like hers. She’s already done that, Malmquist said.
“I think she’s going to soar,” said the English teacher, who broke down in tears when Jacks told her she’d won the scholarship. “There’s no stopping this kind of dedication and passion for learning. To see a West Iron kid achieve this, that’s exactly what we want. This is our purpose, to get these students to see that there is a path that will lead to something bigger and better.”
For her part, Jacks is still in a state of shock.
“You don’t think that you’re ever going to get a full ride. That’s crazy. I cannot be more thankful.”