Academics and Research

Daniels Fund Scholarship helps a freshman’s college dream come true

Jen Newman says it was the best day of her life.

It was April 26, 2011. She was about to clock in for her evening shift at a Chick-fil-A in Federal Heights, Colo., when her phone rang.

“It was my high school counselor calling to tell me I’d just won the Daniels Fund Scholarship — tuition, room, board, books and more — at the University of Denver,” she says.

The fund awards scholarships to high school students to attend college. Newman is one of 18 scholars that chose to attend DU, giving the University 124 Daniels Scholars enrolled for the 2011–12 school year.

Newman got the news with just one week left before she had to make a final decision about college.

“Without the scholarship I’d probably be going to my local community college,” Newman says. “It was the best day of my life; it meant I could actually go to a university of my dreams. It gives me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It gives me a way to actually accomplish my dreams.”

Newman enthusiasm is understandable considering the obstacles she overcame on her way to DU.

Newman’s mom left her dad when Newman was in 8th grade. “He went to jail at the beginning of my freshman year and my parents divorced that January,” she says.

And that job at Chick-fil-A — it was a necessity. She helped her mom pay bills.

“I started working there when I was 15. I’d work about 20–25 hours a week,” she says. “Now that that season of my life is over and I can look back at the things I learned there, simple things that made a big difference in my life and my character. Things like serving people — even ungrateful people — is a humbling experience. Asking people how they are and actually caring can make a difference.”

But she says the most important lesson was to not let her circumstances prevent her from living her life.

“I could have chosen to be bitter, but I tried to make the best of everything that happened. I honestly had a hard time with having a job when my dad didn’t. Paying the bills he wasn’t. Although at the time I hated my circumstances I’m really thankful for everything I’ve been through because I would definitely not be the person I am today.”

Peter Droege, vice president of communications for the Daniels Fund in Denver, says the fund chooses students based on their leadership, character and commitment to serving others.

“Jennifer obviously excels in all these areas. And some of our scholarship recipients have faced difficulties early in their lives, but they use those difficulties to achieve more in their lives, and Jennifer is a good example of that,” Droege says. “Because of family circumstances, she had to start working at an early age. The hardship she experienced has helped her open her heart to the needs of others.”

And Newman has spent countless community service hours serving the less fortunate.

“To me, it’s about being able to fulfill a need,” she explains.

During high school and summers Newman says she had “incredible opportunities” to lead a youth ministry for a small group of middle school girls who were going through chaotic times as well.

“I believe fully in leading by example and living life with those you lead, there’s no better way to make a difference,” she says.

But she says inner-city missions are her favorite community service. She’s completed missions in Los Angeles and New York.

“That’s where we provide things like food to those who haven’t had anything to eat in days,” she says. “It’s incredible to give people a reason to hope when they live lives where hoping and believing in something is stupid.”

After she graduates, Newman plans to start or help a nonprofit that supports parents and children.

“I want to help single parents, teen parents, unemployed parents,” she says. “I want to help people find jobs … just be a support for families in the inner city, to provide a safe place for their children and support for parents. I just have big dreams and don’t exactly know where they’ll lead me.”

They’re already leading her to a school she never thought she’d get to attend. To decide on a school, Newman says she wrote down a list of priorities, things like academics, location, number of students, class size and majors.

“When I visited the DU campus it was unbelievable,” she says, “never in reality would someone like me coming from the family I was raised in be able to afford or realistically be able to even dream about attending school at DU. DU fulfilled everything on my list of priorities and more.”

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