Past Competitive Scholars on the Memories — and the Nerves — of a Unique University Experience
For decades, students have come from across the country to the Rockhurst University campus for a chance to earn one of 20 full-tuition scholarships.
What started as an effort to sit down with high school seniors for academic conversations with the University’s faculty meant to mimic college coursework has become a University tradition that attracts some of the nation’s top high-school seniors for discussions with faculty and staff that center on the values of leadership and service, two of the hallmarks of a Rockhurst education.
Just by virtue of the numbers involved, most of the participants don’t earn one of the full-tuition scholarships. But for many, the day does leave them with a lasting impression of a university community they could happily call home. A few current University students and past competitive scholars shared what they remember from the experience:
Ravali Inja had never stepped foot on the Rockhurst campus when she came here with her family for Competitive Scholars Day. In fact, the senior biology and psychology major said Rockhurst was not really on her college radar at that time, but she was anxious for the opportunity.
“I knew this was it, this was interview day,” she said of the pressure. “But when I stepped onto campus, I was greeted with smiling faces everywhere.”
The experience changed Inja’s mind about the size and kind of campus community she was looking for. Preparing to enter medical school next year, she said even though she might not have earned one of the full-tuition scholarships, Competitive Scholars Day showed the kind of community that she eventually found here.
“You got to see where everyone was similar, but also bringing different strengths,” she said. “Everyone at Rockhurst works together and is so supportive of each other.”
Senior chemistry major and business minor Katherine Polednik remembers her mother quizzing her on the plane to Kansas City from Colorado for her Competitive Scholars Day. Still, she felt the same nerves and anticipation that many participants do — she said she had to take her heels off because her legs were shaking so much. But Polednik said she also took a moment to offer a short prayer — “God, your will be done” — in the Mass before the interviews started.
Walking around that day, Polednik said she heard greetings and words of encouragement from strangers. In talking with her peers, she said she found a camaraderie.
“It’s really awesome to hear someone talk about something they really love,” Polednik said. “I realized that was what it was about. You’re not just here to be the best. You’re here to have conversations with people who will probably be your classmates.”
That silent prayer was answered when Polednik received one of the scholarships. That paved the way for her to attend Rockhurst, but she said the experience at Competitive Scholars Day cemented her choice.
“I just felt so at home on campus,” she said. “If I had a second chance, I would choose Rockhurst all over again.”
Exiting 71 Highway South coming in from Omaha, Adam Sova said it started to sink in.
“I remember very vividly seeing that sign that said ‘Rockhurst University’ and getting really nervous,” he said.
The Omaha native, now a senior majoring in medical physics had a sister at Rockhurst, said the first question set the tone for him — this was not like high school.
“They asked this political question right off the bat, and that kind of set the tone that these are not questions that have an easy answer,” he said.
But to Sova, that type of discussion also showed what the University valued in students.
“It showed me that Rockhurst was looking for leaders who wanted to make an impact on campus right away,” he said. “It’s about looking for people who are well-rounded.”
That lesson stuck, even though Sova was not one of the scholarship recipients. He has taken on leadership roles on campus in addition to undergraduate research opportunities during his time at Rockhurst — and he credits the Competitive Scholars Day experience with helping him realize that potential.