A: “Does having to pay for it count?” she said
with a laugh. “It’s definitely a problem with how
expensive it has become and the loans that really
need to be taken out to go to school. It used to
be possible where you could work and pay for it,
but it’s not so possible anymore.”
Q: What’s your biggest college success?
A: “Being able to balance work and school,”
she said. For instance, last fall, Petersen
worked 35 hours each week on top of being a
Q: Your biggest college obstacle?
A: “When I first started at IPFW, I was a little
nervous about the student body, actually,” she
said: “that I would be surrounded by people
who weren’t really motivated.” But in most
cases, that has not been true, Petersen countered. Plus, “Once you get into the higher level
classes, or you can get into your classes for
your major, it tends to be people who are more
into what you are learning and who care a little bit more.”
Q: Favorite college experience?
A: “Can I say, ‘Talking with my professors?’”
she asked. “I just think that they’re really cool
and I like to talk with them.” Petersen continued, “I like to be around these brilliant people
and I am so lucky to be able to talk to them.
They have published works that are so interesting and important.” And these admired educators “read my stuff.”
Q: What’s the biggest misconception about
A: Some professors “are researchers and not really teachers,” and their classes end up “just
PowerPoint slides,” she said. Still, Petersen observed, “Nobody should expect them to all be
like Dead Poets Society teachers.”
Q: How did you focus on communication
A: “My best friend’s cousin was studying it, and
I thought it was really interesting,” she recalled.
Petersen has long found language similarly appealing, she said.
Q: How has college matured you?
A: “I think I was forced into working harder
and managing my time better,” she said. “I
have become interested in more things, too,”
including minoring in linguistics and exploring
University of Nevada, Reno
MAJORS: History and philos-
ophy (ethics, law, and poli-
tics) in the honors program
PHI KAPPA PHI CHAPTER: UNR
SOCIETY AWARD: 2013 Study
Abroad Grant, five weeks
at the University Studies
Abroad Consortium, taking courses about Latin
American social mobility, and volunteering at
an orphanage in Puntarenas, Costa Rica
OTHER AWARDS: 2014 Truman Scholarship for aca-
demics, leadership and civics, worth up to
$30,000 for graduate study; 2014 Top Ten Col-
lege Women, May issue of Glamour magazine
The much-lauded young scholar overcomes humble
Q: You experienced a tough childhood. Did you
think college was an option?
A: No. I grew up in Los Angeles really poor. I
went to high school in Las Vegas. My parents
are Mexican immigrants. My mom didn’t finish high school. My dad didn’t finish middle
school. We moved in part because they had
heard there was an economic boom, but they
still struggled to find employment. I experienced homelessness for three months in 11th
grade. My parents, divorced now, were separated then, and my mom and I had to stay
with friends. (My little brother and little sister
live with our dad.) My parents don’t understand the U.S. education system, particularly
higher education. They thought they would
have had to pay for it for me. My mom said I
could finish high school, but because we had a
hard time putting food on the table, she also
wanted me to get a job; so it would have been
OK with her if I had dropped out. But now
that my mom has seen all that I have accomplished, she has a greater appreciation for
Q: You won one of the grand prizes at the 2011
Dr Pepper Tuition Giveaway by tossing the most
footballs through a two-foot hole in an oversized can during halftime of the SEC championship game at the Georgia Dome. You only
learned to throw a few days before, coached by
UNR’s starting quarterback. You earned
$100,000 for college.
A: Around 10,000 applicants submitted
one-minute videos about themselves. I explained how I didn’t start drinking soda until I
was 13 since in my home soda was a luxury
and how I wanted to go to law school to help
underprivileged children and the Latino community. I made the cut and was one of five to
win the football toss. I was a first-semester
freshman at UNR and money was getting
tight. I tell Dr Pepper all the time that they
saved my life, essentially.
Q: Summarize your community outreach.
A: I work on immigration reform through
UNR’s Latino Research Center and its Latino
Student Advisory Board, for which I’m executive director. We assist low-income and undocumented Latinos. I lobbied on behalf of them at
the state and federal levels and helped establish
a scholarship-mentoring program for potential
first-generation college students. I also am a legislative affairs intern at Mi Familia Vota, which
promotes social and economic justice for Latinos through civic participation.
The other half of my service is in theater. It’s
been a safe haven for me, allowing creative ex-
pression and decision-making. I cofounded
Spotlight: Academy for Young Actors, offering
free classes to low-income kids age 7 to 12 in
Reno, Costa Rica, Chile, Cuba, and Mexico.
Hsin-Ta (Andre) Tsai
MAJORS: Economics (
international politics and policy)
and education studies
SOCIET Y AWARD: 2013 Study
Abroad Grant, summer
term at Exeter College,
University of Oxford
Diligence and appreciation form the backbone of this
Q: How did you pick your majors?
A: I grew up in Taichung City, Taiwan. I lost
my dad when I was 8. My mom didn’t finish
primary school. So it was rough. She and I
sought assistance from the government, organizations, and people, but no luck. I thought: I
should fix this problem for me and for others
like me. That’s what brought me here, on full
scholarship. Everyone accepted at Berea can be
on a full 4-year tuition scholarship (with a required part-time labor position). I also receive
room and board funding. We thought I would
not be able to go to college! I want to help those
with similar experiences.
Q: How involved is your family with your
A: I’ve done it all on my own. I have an older
brother and an older sister. They and my mom
are supportive emotionally and were excited for
and proud of me when I got accepted. Since we
lived in poverty, they kept wondering how the
education would be paid for and were skeptical
that it was free, even during summers.
Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: Well, I will soon complete two majors in
three years while having two part-time jobs:
teaching assistant in economics and office asso-ciate/web content assistant in the labor and student life office. I cofounded the Berea Economics Association. I am treasurer of the Asian Student Union. I’m chapter vice president of Students for a Free Tibet and of Omicron Delta
Epsilon, the international economics honor society. And I’m in several other honor societies.
So if I have free time, I nap. But normally, I
don’t have any.
Q: Do you have any hobbies?
A: This is going to sound nerdy, but I like to read
for my research.
Q: What academic obstacles have you faced?
A: When I first came here, I struggled to make
the cultural adjustment. Then, because I was really busy, I had difficulties with time management. Now, carving out some fun is an issue. But
I’m not a big social person. I don’t go to parties.
Q: How has college helped you grow?