Meet the Winners of Student Loan Hero’s Fall 2020 Scholarships

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As part of our ongoing mission to combat the student debt crisis, Student Loan Hero provides scholarships with $5,000 and $2,000 awards to help students pay for school. We’re thrilled to announce our most recent scholarship winners, who are taking home the prizes for the Fall 2020 semester contest.

These inspiring students have overcome significant obstacles on their paths to education. It is our sincere hope that these scholarships help reduce the financial burden of college and graduate school as they work toward their degrees.

Read on to meet the winners of the Student Loan Hero scholarships and learn more about their stories, as well as how you, too, could win.

Kanistha Shah, University of Arizona

Image: Kanistha Shah

Grand prize: $5,000

Kanistha Shah is pursuing her master’s degree in nursing while raising her 3-year-old son. A child of immigrant parents, she was the first in her family to graduate from college.

Kanistha was inspired by the perseverance that her parents demonstrated in raising three children while struggling financially. It was her father’s diagnosis with cancer and becoming the primary caregiver to her parents and 17-year-old nephew that led her down the path to nursing.

Kanistha is a member of the Master’s Entry to the Profession of Nursing Student Organization and serves on the board as philanthropy chair, where she helps organize volunteer events and community service.

After graduating, she plans to make a positive impact by helping to educate and improve the quality of life for others, especially those with limited access to health care.

Daphne Bonilla, Kennesaw State University

Image: Daphne Bonilla

Grand prize: $5,000

Daphne Bonilla is majoring in journalism and emerging media at Kennesaw State University. She was born in Guatemala and moved with her siblings and mother to the United States at a young age.

While in Guatemala, Daphne and her family endured the struggles of hunger and poverty. Although she felt fortunate to move to the U.S., Daphne and her family faced major challenges, such as not knowing how to speak the language and enduring financial instability.

These experiences motivated Daphne to excel in her ESL classes, and at the same time get a job despite her young age, in order to help her family. Dealing with these difficulties, common to many immigrants, influenced Daphne to pursue a career in journalism. Her goal is to shed light on stories like hers and her family’s, as well as those of many others struggling around the world.

Daphne will be graduating from college in 2021 and has interned at major networks, including NBC and CNN.

Autumn Gerlick, Adams State University

Image: Autumn Gerlick

Runner-up prize: $2,000

Autumn Gerlick is a sophomore at Adams State University, where she’s pursuing a Bachelor of Science in cellular and molecular biology with a minor in chemistry. She is driven to become a cardiothoracic surgeon, because her father died of heart complications when she was just five years old.

The tragedy of her father’s death happened because he was unable to receive medical treatment in time. As a result, Autumn is committed to making sure that patients with heart complications don’t have to wait to get the surgery they need.

“I am very passionate about my studies,” she said, “and I hope to inspire others that have had to go a long way through the struggles of life.”

Kearah Scott, Central Piedmont Community College

Runner-up prize: $2,000

Kearah Scott is pursuing her Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) while balancing the challenges of being a single mom. After a lifetime of financial hardship, Kearah is now striving to advance her career and provide for her and her daughter.

Kearah initially left high school before graduating, but she returned to earn her GED and train as a phlebotomist. She continues to work as she studies at Central Piedmont Community College.

After she graduates with her BSN, Kearah aspires to start her own personal business and “be the very best mother [she] can be at the beginning and end of every day.”

Brittany Franks, Southern Adventist University

Image: Brittany Franks

Runner-up prize: $2,000

Brittany Franks is a nursing student at Southern Adventist University. She is a wife and mom of four rambunctious boys who love the outdoors. Brittany survived the November 2018 wildfire in Paradise, Calif., driving her family to safety through tunnels of flames.

Following this harrowing experience, she helped individuals and families impacted by the wildfire by connecting people to resources and organizing and handing out donations, such as gift cards and household goods. Brittany also volunteered her time to help build the first source of clean running water in Paradise following the disaster.

Brittany accomplished all this while handling the trauma her own family experienced, including the loss of their home. They now live in a small two-bedroom apartment, trying to keep expenses low while Brittany works toward her degree.

Kaili Wagoner, University of Arizona

Image: Kaili Wagoner

Runner-up prize: $2,000

As a first-generation college student, Kaili Wagoner worked hard to get where she is today. Her mother was a victim of the opioid crisis, succumbing to her disease when Kaili was 15 years old.

Her father, who had difficulty accessing health insurance, endured a massive, debilitating stroke two years ago. Kaili cared for her father full time while fighting to get him covered.

After experiencing the inequities of the health care system firsthand, Kaili wants to make a difference. She is now a grad student studying health services administration with the goal of enacting change in the health care system that failed her parents.

“I have learned to never stop advocating for myself,” said Kaili. “I hope that any student reading this knows that they too can be successful and change the trajectory in their own life, as long as [they’re] not afraid to ask for help.”

You’re invited to apply for our spring 2021 scholarships

Congratulations to the winners of the fall 2020 Student Loan Hero scholarships!

If you’re a current or soon-to-be student, we invite you to apply for our spring 2021 scholarship awards. As part of the application, we ask for your response to these two questions:
What financial challenges have you overcome growing up? How have they shaped your goals and career aspirations?

We look forward to your submission and hope we can provide some help along your educational journey.

Published in News & Policy, Success Stories