A scholarship letter to change a future

Jill Goodman learned she had earned a full-tuition ride to UND the night before she was due at Montana State

A scholarship from the North Dakota University System changed Jill Goodman’s college plans. This semester, she is a freshman at the University of North Dakota instead of at a university some 800 miles further west. Photo by Dima Williams/UND Today.

One evening in late August, a letter made Jill Goodman’s best-laid plan for her college education go awry, at least for a time.

Goodman, a Grand Forks native and a Red River High School graduate, was packing her belongings and piling them in the car for a 12-hour drive the next day. She was headed to Montana State University in Bozeman.

“I’m from Grand Forks,” she said. “So initially, I wanted to just get away. That’s common.”

Montana State seemed a good choice to Goodman, an option linked to family history. It is a school in the foothills of Yellowstone National Park, where Goodman’s parents met during summer jobs.

Years later, the Goodmans would venture to the area for the kind of vacations that inspired Jill to pursue wildlife biology – following in the footsteps of one of her sisters.

“We really love the national parks and being outside,” Goodman said. “I’d like to do work where I can do that. My ideal career would be as a naturalist in one of the national parks, where I would teach about wildlife.”

Moreover, Goodman had secured several scholarships to attend Montana State. They would not have been enough to cover all of her expenses, but they would have reduced some of the financial pressure of attending an out-of-state university.

A late, stressful surprise

Then came that letter.

It had arrived early on what was to be Goodman’s last day in Grand Forks before the start of her freshman year in Montana. She did not open the letter until late in the evening.

“I’m moving my stuff in the car and my mom goes, ‘Oh hey, there’s a letter here for you from the North Dakota University System,’” Goodman said.

The envelope contained great news, which, nonetheless, was quite nerve-wracking for Goodman. She had to rethink her whole plan for the future in a mere several hours.

Goodman had received a full-tuition scholarship from NDUS on the condition she attended one of North Dakota’s higher-education institutions.

“It was a lot to take in,” she said. “I had that night to decide. It was really stressful. I called on my friends and was like, ‘What should I do?’”

Her peers, some of whom were going to the University of North Dakota, tried not to sway her decision. Her parents did the same, simply affirming their unflinching support for whatever Goodman opted to do.

Goodman chose UND.

“I chose UND over North Dakota State University or any of North Dakota’s other colleges and universities due to its wildlife biology program,” Goodman said. “Even when I was planning on attending Montana State University I knew that UND offered a strong wildlife biology program, but I chose Montana for its location.

“After receiving the scholarship, although I still wanted to leave Grand Forks, I couldn’t ignore the program at UND. A family friend, who is a national director for Ducks Unlimited, spoke highly of the program and its heads, and that had me convinced. After that, the decision was easy.”

Goodman made her mind to attend UND on a Saturday. So, Sunday was another whole day for Goodman to agonize over accepting the scholarship and figuring out how to enroll a week before classes began at UND. Then came Monday, and she had to act.

“I had applied to UND in the spring,” Goodman said. “I was admitted, and I just never canceled my application because, I guess, I didn’t realize I was supposed to. So my application was still open.”

While most students may take a summer to select courses and secure a dorm room before setting foot on campus, Goodman had a week. But with the help of UND admissions and core advisors, it all worked out.

“I feel fortunate that I was able to get everything done in that week,” Goodman said.

Early focus on the future

On Aug. 26, the first day of the fall semester, Goodman was a freshman at UND. She is now taking classes such as Introduction to Biology, English, Ceramics, Introduction to Wildlife Biology and Spanish (her Spanish-teacher mom pushed her to take this one).

Goodman, who lives in the residence halls in order to truly immerse herself in college life, is also a member of the Wildlife Society club at UND.

She might be barely halfway through her first year at UND, but she is already thinking about a summer internship, one that would nudge her closer to her goals in her chosen field. In early November, she attended a networking event in Fargo, seeking opportunities.

“I don’t know yet, specifically, what I should do this summer to better prepare myself” for a career in wildlife biology, Goodman said.

But she seems to already be ahead of the curve, finding good counsel from her older sister, who recently graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a degree in biology.

“I definitely go to her for advice,” Goodman said. “I ask her about what job I should take this summer. It’s also kind of fun right now, even though she’s graduated, she’s also looking for experience like I am. So, we get to talk about that.”

Wherever Goodman may end up for the summer, she appears quite glad that this year, a letter arrived just in the nick of time to keep her in Grand Forks.