Southwest Minnesota State University sophomore Will Kurka chose Southwest Minnesota State, in part, because of its cost.
"It was a combination of things, but cost was one of them," said Kurka, a political science and management major. "I didn't quite know what I wanted to major in, so I felt I could take my time and figure out what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to play football after high school, and I was offered a scholarship here. My mom had ALS for 15 years, and SMSU was close enough so that she could get to games.:"
Kurka, a three-sport standout at Minneota High School during his prep days, redshirted his first year. He is a tight end and special teams player who transitioned seamlessly into the college game.
"I came from a small school where I just moved from one sport to the next," he said. "It was an adjustment not playing that first year," he said.
"College football is a lot more situational, it's so specialized. I was used to never coming off the field."
Kurka is the son of Gary and the late Mary Jo Kurka from Minneota. He lost his mother to ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) last September, as the season was just under way for the Mustangs. "She had always been tough," he said. "Even though she had been in a diminished capacity, she ran the household. She was the secretary, she kept things going. She helped keep things organized. She was also the confidante."
His mother had been confined to a wheelchair since 2001, and was unable to speak since 2003 due to a tracheotomy.
"As weird as it sounds, it was a shock (when she died)" said Kurka. "She battled infections, and was in and out of the hospital. Every winter she'd get worse, but she'd make a miraculous recovery. She had come back so many times.
"You knew what was going to happen, you have time to prepare. But you don't prepare for what you feel when it happens."
Kurka wanted to get back to a normal schedule. "My teammates helped. It was nice being able to go to practice, to do something else, that first week especially. There's nothing else you can think about."
The university's scholarship recognition lunch begins today at 11:30 a.m., and Kurka will be one of the student speakers. He'll talk about what scholarships have meant to him as he pursues his dream of attending law school after graduation.
Eighty-six percent of SMSU students receive financial aid. The average financial aid package is $10,762, one of the reasons why SMSU students graduate with less debt than any other college or university in the state (The Project on Student Debt, 2010 data).
"Scholarships have been important to me," he said. "My family was not in a position to give a lot of financial help, so scholarships have been a way for me to attend college. I'm not a kid who will get (his education) paid for without having to work a lot for it. The scholarships allow me to concentrate on school more, and what I want to do down the road."
Kurka receives an athletic scholarship, as well as two scholarships from the SMSU Foundation ? the Jerry Marquardt Memorial/Marshall Radio Scholarship and a Presidential Scholarship.
He'll be interning this summer with Northwestern Mutual Insurance. "I'm glad to have that opportunity," said Kurka.
His long-term goal is to attend law school at the University of Minnesota. He's not interested in litigation law, however. Probably something like business law, he said.
Kurka has always been active, and is an avid hunter and fisherman. He'll play baseball for the Minneota Mudhens this summer, and will work out at SMSU with about 25 of his football teammates three or four times per week.
He carries a 3.85 grade-point-average, and said time management is important, especially when you first enter college. ":The natural tendency for young kids is to party all the time and stay up late with friends during those first few months," said Kurka. "You have to try and find a balance. You can't get behind in school, either, because then you find yourself scrambling and you know you have to ace the final for a decent grade. You have to budget your time."
SMSU has proven to be a good fit. "I like the people here, the teachers, the administrators, coaches and teammates. Coming from a small school it's nice to have small class sizes, and the professors here are more than accommodating. If you want to do well, they will help you."