Creighton junior lands major Obama Foundation scholarship
Creighton junior Liza Zaruba, seen here in front of the skyline in Sydney, Australia, during a study abroad trip, will travel to New York as part of the inaugural class of Obama-Chesky Voyager scholars.
Liza Zaruba, a Creighton University junior, is among 100 recipients of the inaugural Obama-Chesky Voyager Scholarships for Public Service.
She will receive up to $85,000 of financial aid from the scholarship, which is designed to expose students seeking a career in public service to international experience.
Liza, who desires to improve health systems in poorer parts of the world, is currently engaged in a Creighton-sponsored travel abroad program at the University of Sydney in Australia.
“This really was my dream scholarship,” she says. “If I were to design a scholarship, this would be it. So, I stayed up until two in the morning three nights in a row answering all the questions and filling out the forms.”
Intending to enter medical school, Liza says she is majoring in health administration and policy with minors in biology, public health and global health equity.
“One of the things that has been influential on me throughout this experience, that I don’t think I would be here without, is my experience with Creighton,” she says.
Liza comes from a medical family. Her father, Dale Zaruba, MD, is a physician, and her mother a therapist. She wrote in her application that she heard many troubling stories about people being unable to access health care and so developed a desire to ease that burden.
“That’s something that really frustrated me,” she says. “Although it certainly occurs in America, millions of people around the world die every year from completely preventable deaths, such as tuberculosis, simply because they don’t have access to the necessary health care. We have medications for these diseases, but people face so many barriers in obtaining them.
“It’s frustrating to me that we sit here and argue about arbitrary things when we could be doing so much more to prevent this reality. Not enough people are talking about it, and I really want to bring a brighter light to those issues.”
Funded by a $100 million contribution by Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, the Voyager scholarships apply to the junior and senior years of college, during which a maximum of $25,000 per year will be provided to retire tuition or living costs not covered by other scholarships. Beyond such “last dollar” support, recipients will receive $10,000 to design a “summer voyage” of their choosing to be taken between their junior and senior years. This international travel opportunity allows recipients to pursue internship or mentorship positions anywhere in the world while staying without charge at Airbnb properties to a value of $4,500.
Beyond even this, recipients will be given a 10-year, post-graduation Airbnb travel allowance of $2,000 a year, totaling $20,000, to encourage continued international exposure.
Eighteen hundred students applied for only 100 scholarships. Liza said it was a stunning moment when she saw her award notification in her email box.
“I was sitting in one of my classes on a random Monday going through my inbox when I stumbled on it,” she says. “It said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been selected.’ I was in class, but I almost screamed. I was freaking out. I looked at it for about 10 minutes, thinking it was some kind of spam email. No way this could be real.
“But it was. So, I contacted my parents and said, ‘Do not go to sleep, I need to call you in an hour.’ My mother was really concerned that something bad had happened.”
Her mother had special reason to rejoice.
Jill Zaruba, a pediatric occupational therapist in Columbus, Nebraska, where Liza grew up, had learned about the Obama/Chesky scholarships while watching a television interview with former first lady Michelle Obama. She instantly realized how well the scholarship meshed with her daughter’s plans.
It meshes with her Creighton education as well.
“Creighton’s Jesuit values, and the entire culture of being men and women for others — the idea of service-leadership — has been a transrmational understanding.
“I’ve had some really great mentors at Creighton who have really believed in me, and every time I felt that something was too big, that I was trying to achieve too much, they said no, this is awesome, and you can do this, and we are going to help you figure out how.”