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Rick Dignus and Keith Seifert are currently bicycling from Manassas, VA, to Green Bay, WI, to raise funds for charities including ThanksUSA.  They’ve already completed over 300 miles and plan to arrive in Green Bay by the NFC Championship Game. You can donate to their cause and follow their progress as they trudge through January’s winter weather on the website pedalthepack.com.

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This week we continue our interview with Eastern Washington University senior and ThanksUSA Scholarship recipient, Ashley Podplesky. (Week 1 available here) Ashley has some sincere advice to pass along to students considering social work or international affairs:

“For those interested in Social Work, I would say volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! I think the most basic need for a student interested in being a social worker is the desire to help people, which is something that can be expanded on while volunteering. Volunteering is also a great way to work with members of different populations, allowing us to learn more about people in different circumstances and those from cultures different than ours, which does nothing but help us prepare for working with our future clients.

As for students interested in studying International Affairs, I would say absorb everything you can about what is going on in the world at the moment. Read the newspaper or watch the news (multiple sources!), pay attention to laws that are being passed and changes that are occurring at the international level, and be sure to always seek support/criticism for your argument from more than one source. This will help expose biases (which we all have), and will give you a better foundation of knowledge to use when analyzing different events. More importantly, get out there and explore the world! You can read every book ever written about Australia or India or South Africa, but you can never truly know what it is like until you actually travel to Australia or India or South Africa and experience that culture firsthand. With this said I know money doesn’t grow on trees and that most people aren’t able to hop from one country to another without going into debt, but there are still plenty of opportunities to immerse yourself in a culture different from your own. Stateside, most semi-large cities have sections of the city that are primarily one culture (i.e. Little Italy, Chinatown, etc), which is about as authentic as your exploration can get without leaving the country. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge of different cultures and the inner workings of foreign countries/their governments will always be beneficial in my opinion.”

Ashley’s advice comes from her personal experience. Currently, Ashley and her sister, Azaria (also a ThanksUSA scholar!) are spending time in Kisumu, Kenya, as part of Circle K International’s 2011 Global Service Trip. Ashley has been blogging about her trip and you can read it here.

Ashley is realistic and understands that “service” fields aren’t for everyone. Regardless, she does have great advice for students in any field:

“When it comes to choosing a major, just follow your heart! I know from personal experience that people will try to talk you out of choosing a major, just because they don’t see it as being a very good choice. Whether or not their points are valid, you are the one who will ultimately live the life you choose; therefore, your opinion should be the only one that matters. It may be hard to go against what others want from you but you will be much happier if you do, as you are living the life you want for yourself.”

ThanksUSA and our supporters are proud of Ashley and all of our ThanksUSA Scholarship recipients! As I write this, hundreds of ThanksUSA applications are in review for the 2011/2012 academic year. The need is great and there are many ways you can help. Click here to make your tax-deductible donation today. Make a $10 donation that will appear on your next cell-phone bill by texting THANKSUSA to 85944. Coffee lovers should look for specially marked cans of Hills Bros. Coffee and enter codes for the Hills Bros. Homefront Heroes campaign. Before you leave, please read as Ashley explains just how much the John (NMN) Coffey/ThanksUSA Scholarship has meant to her education.

“Having two majors means I am currently enrolled in two full-time programs, meaning I almost always take more than the full credit load of 18 credits. Whenever a student takes more than 18 credits there is a separate fee per credit for the student to pay, meaning more money is due. The John (NMN) Coffey/ ThanksUSA Scholarship essentially made it possible for me to continue with my education, especially allowing me to continue pursuing my two degrees of study. If I had not received this scholarship I really think I would have had to drop one of my majors, forcing me to choose between the two fields that I love. Receiving this scholarship made furthering my education possible, for which I will always be eternally grateful.”

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Continuing last week’s focus on the Martinez family, I am pleased to introduce ThanksUSA scholar Aljo Victor Martinez. Aljo received a $3000 Blavatnik Family Foundation/ThanksUSA scholarship for the 2010 spring semester. Aljo actually received notification of his scholarship on Christmas Eve, 2009. “That Christmas will never be forgotten in our household. It assured me not to worry about school related needs for the 2010 spring semester,” says Aljo.

The Martinez family: Aljo, Allia, Dyune, Amy and Alden

As a Chemical Engineering major at the University of South Alabama, Aljo is fascinated by the intricacies of chemicals and their reactions to each other. Aljo explains, “When handled properly, chemicals benefit mankind. I realize how much of our daily lives depend so much on chemical engineering and I want to be a part of that.

Aljo is excelling at his studies and credits his involvement in the AFROTC Arnold Airs Honor Society, explaining, “The challenges and excitement of the program motivates me and helps with my focus. The camaraderie we have in the detachment is something I am thankful for. College life would have been very challenging for me without my new friends. Sharing the same goals and accountability help all of us to aim for excellence all the time.”

Aljo further explains that AFROTC has led him to consider a military career of his own. “I am enjoying every minute of it (AFROTC) and learning a great deal about leadership and discipline. I seriously would like to join the Air Force as an officer when I graduate from college. I believe in the United States and I will be honored and proud for an opportunity to serve her,” says Aljo.

As the son of a career Navy Chief, Aljo understands the challenges and rewards that come with a military career. Growing up in the Navy, Aljo moved quite often and is proud to have friendships in the U.S., Italy, and even Iceland. Aljo also reflects on his father’s career with great respect: “My father served in the United States Navy faithfully and proudly for 24 years. Early on, I really did not have a good grasp of the importance of his job…he was a Culinary Specialist Chief Petty Officer. Now I realized that his service was just as honorable as those who are in the front lines. He kept our Sailors and Marines fed with highly nutritious food daily which in turn played a significant role in every one of them to fulfill their duties and complete their missions.”

The ThanksUSA team recognizes and appreciates the role of every U.S. Service Member and we extend our sincerest thank you to CPO Alfredo Dyune Martinez, USN (Ret.), for his twenty-four years of service to our nation. I think that CPO Martinez and his wife, Amy, should also be commended for raising such focused and goal-oriented children; both Allia and Aljo are certainly on their way to success! We close this week with a thank-you from Aljo:

I would like to express my gratitude to ThanksUSA for their scholarship program. They are helping young people like me get closer to our goals and make our dreams a reality. I do not know where I would be right now if I did not receive this scholarship. I am so grateful for the Blavatnik Family Foundation as well – they helped make our Christmas unforgettable. We are truly grateful for kind-hearted and generous people who put their wealth to good use by investing in young dreamers like me. Thank you very much!

Remember, you too can help make scholarships possible for military dependents by making your tax-deductible donation today. Scholarship applications are now being accepted for the 2010/2011 academic year.

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