Bethany Petrunak saw the email that solidified her college choice as she was leaving her part-time job at Helena’s Chocolate Cafe & Creperie.
There were tears, and maybe a little screaming.
After all, she had just won a four-year, full-tuition scholarship to Dickinson College.
Petrunak was the inaugural winner of the college’s Dickinson-Carlisle Scholarship, which is to be awarded annually to “the Carlisle resident who wishes to pursue a useful education for the common good,” according to the college.
“It’s a life-changing award,” Petrunak said.
Dickinson College President Margee Ensign recently presented the scholarship to Petrunak at the Carlisle High School Senior Awards Night. In a year full of firsts for the new college president, Ensign said presenting the scholarship to Petrunak was “one of the most memorable nights of the year.”
The scholarship originated out of the development of the college’s strategic plan, and sends a message to the community and its students that Dickinson College has a place for them. Even with all the financial aid Dickinson offers, this scholarship stands out as an affirmation of the college’s commitment to Carlisle as well as its commitment to civic engagement, Ensign said.
“Dickinson is committed to deepening our partnership even more, not only with educational institutions, but also with government, businesses and more,” she said.
Candidates for the scholarship must be residents of Carlisle with a permanent Carlisle postal address at the time of the award with the intention of entering college the following fall. It is not limited to Carlisle High School. Applicants may attend other schools or be home-schooled. Students with financial need are favored in the selection process.
Students respond to a specific essay prompt in their applications in which they describe what civic engagement means to them, how they have engaged in service to the community, the contributions they have made and how they hope to continue to serve others.
Ensign said it was hard to make the final decision among the four finalists for the scholarship.
“I wanted to give it to all four, but we don’t have those resources,” she said.
“For a scholarship in its first year, I think it had amazing success,” Petrunak said.
The numbers back her case. Fourteen students applied for the scholarship. Of those, eight were accepted and six enrolled at Dickinson College.
The applicants were involved in a number of activities at their schools including theater, dance, music, athletics, National Honor Society, Model United Nations, Student Government, Mock Trial and Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts.
Civic engagement and community service activities included service with faith communities, Mini-Thon, mission trips to communities in need, Big Brothers Big Sisters, internships at the Office of Children, Youth and Family, raising money for local charities and working with community service organizations.
At Carlisle High School, Petrunak ranked in the top 7 percent of the senior class and was a member of the National Honor Society, National English Honor Society and the National French Honor Society. She has a passion for writing, music and art history and contributed to many performing arts programs at Carlisle High School, including CoffeeHouse and the Shakespeare Program. She also is a member of the Chamber Singers and has performed at both district and regional chorus.
She served as a delegate to the Model UN convention. She also served the community through years of work with Mini-Thon, both as a committee member and as an adviser.
Petrunak, who plans to study English or art history, said she had been going on tours of Dickinson College since her freshman year of high school. Even before the availability of the scholarship was announced last fall, she was considering applying to Dickinson to see what would happen with financial aid.
“This scholarship changed my life. There were hardly any college discussions in my family that didn’t make their way to money one way or another,” Petrunak said.
Petrunak said she plans to throw herself into campus life when she arrives at Dickinson as a student. She’s been involved with music programs in the Carlisle Area School District since she was in elementary school, and plans to audition for one of the college’s a cappella groups.
Academically, Petrunak is most excited about the smaller class sizes that foster more discussion and closer relationships with peers.
“Living in Carlisle, Dickinson has always been a part of my life. I think what attracted me the most is their drive to push students as far as they can go,” Petrunak said.
“We are proud to welcome Bethany to the Dickinson family. Her academic work and commitment to community embody the spirit of the Dickinson-Carlisle Scholarship, and we are very excited to watch all she’ll accomplish at Dickinson,” Ensign said.