Topic: College of Sciences and Humanities

June 22, 2015

Sarah Ashcraft and Katie Couric

Psychology student Sarah Ashcraft got the chance to meet Katie Couric after Ashcraft was named a finalist for the Dream Award, a Scholarship America program seeded by the journalist.

When Sarah Ashcraft, '17, applied for the Dream Award her freshman year, she never expected it would lead to a moment she'd be taking selfies with journalist Katie Couric.

"At the time, I had no idea Katie was involved with the scholarship," the psychology major said. "I didn't find out until months later, when I learned I was a finalist and got this email telling me I was going to be on her talk show."

During a spring 2014 taping of "Katie," Ashcraft and 11 other student finalists seated onstage were shocked to discover they would all receive the Dream Award and that Couric had played a major role in its creation.

With proceeds from her book The Best Advice I Ever Got, the television journalist provided national nonprofit organization Scholarship America a $350,000 seed donation for the renewable scholarship program to help students with financial needs complete college. Ashcraft received a renewable $11,000 award, which increases $1,000 annually as she works toward earning her bachelor's degree.

"It's just unbelievable Katie did that," Ashcraft said. "And even more unbelievable I won."

'My grades never suffered'

Ashcraft said the Dream Award is helping her rethink her goals as a student at Ball State.

"Before, as much as I wanted to study abroad, I didn't think it would be possible," she said. "Now, because of the scholarship, I'll spend spring semester of my junior year in Europe."

Sarah Ashcraft video

Watch Sarah Ashcraft tell her story about her childhood and winning the Dream Award.

To apply for the Dream Award, Ashcraft had to write an essay about the obstacles she faced getting to college. Coping with drug and alcohol addiction within her family, Ashcraft was raised by her maternal grandmother. Staying focused in school was a challenge for the Dyer, Indiana, native.

"But my grades never suffered," she said. "If anything, I used my circumstances to encourage me to do better in everything I wanted."

Ashcraft and fellow inaugural Dream Award recipients attended a Scholarship America-sponsored dinner May 21 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where her story was shared a second time. The event was an opportunity for the nonprofit to thank its donors, including Couric.

"They played this video, and it came to my story, and I looked out in the audience to see all these grown men crying and so I started crying, too," Ashcraft said. "Katie read from her book and gave us all hugs and took selfies with us, wanting to know what we had been doing since we'd been on her show.

"That night I felt like a celebrity, like I was living in a dream."

'A lot of doors opened for me'

During her whirlwind visit to the nation’s capital, Ashcraft was invited by Scholarship America to meet with policy makers at the White House. She and other Dream Award winners toured the Capitol, dropped in on members of the House and Senate and ate lunch at the congressional cafeteria.

Unusual Circumstances

For the Dream Award, Sarah Ashcraft submitted the essay "Unusual Circumstances."

Read the essay.

"I want to be a school psychologist after I graduate as well as an activist for education, so to get to do some of that with all these powerful people in the room was so awesome," Ashcraft said. "I felt like a lot of doors opened for me on this trip."

Kim Taylor, an instructor of psychological science at Ball State, said Ashcraft's selection for the Dream Award is no surprise.

"Sarah's that rare type of student who, no matter what she encounters, she's going to be successful because she's that determined," Taylor said. "She told me once she never wanted to be someone who was trapped or defined by life's circumstances.

"By winning this award, she's shown everyone the past doesn't have to dictate a person's future."