Scholarship Provides Opportunity for International Student
Darshaka Dias' college career does not fall into the category of "traditional." Growing up in Sri Lanka, Dias had a desire to make college more than just an experience; he hoped to make it a life-shaping journey.
"We have a really good education system in Sri Lanka," said Dias. "I just felt it would be an adventure to come to America. My father did his bachelor's in Germany. He kind of took a chance and went there and I thought maybe I could recreate that experience."
While Dias wanted to have that adventure that his father had before him, he decided Germany was not the place to make it happen. His interests in studying computer science and math led Dias to focus his attention on the U.S., where computer science was a hot topic.
In order to find a university in the U.S., Dias turned to a friend of his fathers, Dr. Athula Kulatunga, who is a professor of Industrial Engineering at Southeast Missouri State University. With the help of Dr. Kulatunga, Dias soon found himself in Cape Girardeau, Mo., applying for college and apartment hunting. Though Dias successfully made the 30-hour flight to a foreign land, his true college challenges were yet to come.
Dias quickly discovered the challenges of paying for his education.
"Because of the out of state tuition, I had to pay between $4,000 and $5,000 a semester," said Dias. "And even though I had a good GPA, being an international student, it was very hard to get the loans...so I paid through credit cards."
The financial challenges would not deter Dias from focusing on his goal of obtaining his bachelor's degree. In order to make this goal more attainable, Dias searched for any help he could find in funding his education. His search led him to apply for one of the many scholarships available to Southeast students.
"I was very delighted to find out that I became a recipient of the Russell and Elnora Michel Mathematics Scholarship," said Dias. "While I was working for minimum wage, having a scholarship was like having an extra two weeks or a month to work. Every little bit was like an hourly raise for me!"
The Russell and Elnora Michel Mathematics Scholarship was established by family and friends of the Michels to commemorate Russell's service to Southeast. Mr. Michel was a professor for 36 years, serving as chair of the Mathematics Department for all but one of those years.
Even though Dias still had to work in the cafeteria in his freshman year and as a tutor all through college, the scholarship helped him to focus more on his education. With a major in math and a double minor in computer science and engineering physics, Dias managed to graduate from Southeast in December 2007 with a 4.0 G.P.A. He credits his success to hard work and the assistance of others.
"I have always thought, even when I was getting the scholarship, what a wonderful thing that these people have done," said Dias. "Donors might not realize but it is enormous when it comes to a student's life."
Upon graduation, Dias landed a job as a computer programmer at Element74, a website development company in Cape Girardeau. Sometime in the future he plans to go back to school to get a master's degree in financial engineering, focusing on making models of how the financial market behaves. Ultimately, Dias intends to go back to Sri Lanka with his wife and child, where he is considering pursuing a career as a college professor.
"Leaving my comfort zone in Sri Lanka and traveling to a foreign country for education has been a truly life changing experience," said Dias. "However, I believe most of the learning took place outside of the classes just through exposure. I can say that I have a better sense of the world around me than I used to, but most importantly, these experiences have helped me get closer to understanding my own self. Though at times it has been quite difficult, I feel fortunate to have this part of the journey of my life!"