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November 2, 2013

Hartwick student escapes war, earns scholarship

Staff Report
The Daily Star

---- — A Hartwick College student has a bright future thanks to a recent award.

Utica resident Paw Ser Soe, a recent transfer student from Mohawk Valley Community College, has been awarded a 2013 Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. She is scheduled to graduate in 2015.

As a result, “my life has completely changed,” she said in a Hartwick media release. “The foundation has given me a great future that I thought could only happen in a dream.” She could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship is given to a community college student to complete their bachelor’s degrees by transferring to a four-year college or university. It provides up to $30,000 per year to each of approximately 75 deserving students selected annually, making it the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students in the country.

Hartwick’s Director of Corporate, Foundation and Government Relations Maggie Arthurs said she can’t comment on the student because of federal regulations. But the award fits in well with the college’s mission to provide access to students, she said.

Soe was born in the jungles of Myanmar, according to the release. With war in the country as a child, she escaped to a refugee camp in Thailand and lived there until age 19, at which point she immigrated to Utica to reunite with some of her siblings. There, she learned quickly and established herself as a top-notch student at MVCC where she founded the “American & Refugee Students for Closer Connection” organization. She also won the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, was a 2013 Coca-Cola Gold Scholar, and made the All-New York State Academic First Team.

In making her transition from MVCC, Soe cites the faculty and staff as one of the main reasons she chose to attend Hartwick College.

“By choosing Hartwick, I hoped to receive greater opportunities to educate people about my life story growing up as a refugee and an internally displaced person,” said Soe. “Another big reason I chose to come here was because of the staff and faculty. They are so welcoming, nice, kind, and helped me with everything I need.”

At Hartwick, Soe is working to complete an Individual Study Program major in International Studies with a focus on international human rights, refugees and issues relating to internally displaced persons.

Her inspiration to succeed came from her late father, Doh Soe, who always had a positive attitude, and who continues to inspire her to “be great and never give up!” Her goal for the future is “to create a better life for the poorest people in the third world.” Upon receiving the JKCF Scholarship, Soe said “My dad always said, ‘There are bad days and good days in every human’s lifetime. Today it may not be your day, but someday it will be your day.’ I think someday is today because today is my day.”

She received her American citizenship less than two months ago, upon which she said: “This is the most special day of my life, because I am an equal and have freedom like other people! Finally, I feel like I belong to one country in this entire world. I am a citizen of one nation. I am very honored and proud to be an American citizen!”

Soe said when she graduates she hopes to continue to share her experiences with others to increase knowledge of refugee situations.