Phi Theta Kappa member Olya Homonchuk’s mantra is simple: never doubt yourself. As an international student dedicated to pursuing her dreams, she has stuck to her guns, setting her sights on success from the beginning. And now, her dedication has paid off, as she prepares to start in the fall at Cornell University – on a full scholarship.
“Many people were doubting me, but I always wanted to go (to Cornell)” said 20-year-old Homonchuk. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as just luck. I believe that the harder you work, the more luck you get.”
Homonchuk first moved to the United States from the Ukraine when she was 15 as an international transfer student. Upon graduating from high school, she returned to her native country, where she worked and saved money so she could pursue her dreams of attending college in America.
“The first time I came to the United States, I saw how many opportunities there are,” she said. “And here, if you have an education, you have endless possibilities.”
Homonchuk returned to the United States and enrolled at Normandale Community College in Minnesota. A friend encouraged her to accept membership into Phi Theta Kappa; and, just two weeks after her induction, she was named a chapter officer.
“(Olya) ran for office the first opportunity she had, and she deliberately chose Vice President of Scholarship, the position that sounded like it was the most challenging and has the most possibility of doing something good on campus, because that position is responsible for directing our Honors in Action project,” said chapter advisor Linda Tetzlaff. “From the start, she was a focused and organized person and completely reliable.”
Homonchuk quickly became one of the most well known Phi Theta Kappa members on her campus. She organized a successful food drive for the then-Minn-Wi-Kota Region, went on to serve as her chapter’s President and was runner-up for 2012-2013 International President. She also presented a successful Educational Forum for international students during the 2013 Annual Convention in San Jose, California.
Her Phi Theta Kappa chapter has become her family. Homonchuk keeps in touch with her chapter’s past four presidents, she’s made friends on the local, regional and international level, and she’s become close with her college’s administrators, faculty and staff.
“Olya fell in love with Phi Theta Kappa and all it is able to do for its members,” Tetzlaff said. “In fact, I remember saying to a colleague that she was the most perfect fit to the criteria of a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar of any of our applicants.”
Homonchuk is the fifth Jack Kent Cooke Scholar from Normandale since 2006, Tetzlaff said. The Jack Kent Cooke Scholars program awards up to $30,000 per year to each of approximately 60 deserving students. In 2013, 62 of the 73 recipients were Phi Theta Kappa members.
Homonchuk was also named a Guistwhite Scholar and a member of the All-Minnesota Academic Team. The full scholarship to Cornell University is the cherry on top of an already successful academic career.
“Olya is a true inspiration for all of our members and a true testament to the success that community college students can achieve,” said Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director and CEO Dr. Rod Risley. “Her strength, courage and perseverance prove that our members have what it takes to rise above humbling circumstances and not only compete but help others rise above as well.
“We are extremely proud of what she has achieved, and we know that this is only the beginning for her.”
Homonchuk credits Tetzlaff and her other chapter advisors with helping her submit winning scholarship applications. She encourages other members to reach out to their advisors for help when writing essays and completing applications.
“Without Phi Theta Kappa, I would not have gotten any scholarships,” she said. “I would not have all of the qualities that schools are looking forthe service, the leadership, the scholarship. It also helped with my research ability.
“It wasn’t just the service or the volunteering. There are many aspects that are important when you’re applying for scholarships. You have to go above and beyond just a 4.0 GPA.”
When applying for scholarships, it’s also important to start early. Heather Johnson, Phi Theta Kappa’s Director of Scholarship Programs, says starting early and thoroughly reading the application’s purpose and instructions allows applicants more time to think through answers and provide a quality response.
“Without a doubt, the majority of our scholarship winners begin their applications shortly after the scholarship applications open, which is far in advance of the published deadline,” Johnson said.
Homonchuk plans to major in industrial and labor relations with an emphasis in global health and public policy. She also plans to pursue her master’s degree from either Stanford or Columbia.
“You always have to dream big,” she said. “To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done before.”