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My Juniata Parent Story – Erin Steward P’23

College? Wait, didn’t we just bring him home from the hospital?  Our cute little bundle of joy who never liked going to bed, how is he 17 and facing the biggest decision of his life (well, so far at least) – COLLEGE! 

During Gavin’s junior year of high school we went on a few college tours, ultimately refining our son’s focus on small schools within 4-5 hours driving distance with a good environmental science program. It was a decent start, but there was still a sense of apprehension, how do we make sure he makes the right choice? Academically, he fell into the average bucket. Even though he earned mostly A’s and B’s, none of his classes were AP or IB level. His SAT scores were average too. With that said, Gavin is athletic, personable, amusing at times, dedicated, and has a good rapport with his teachers. Surely this must account for something, right?

Outside of school, my son worked at the local Christmas tree farm, arranged produce at the local grocery store, and painted fire hydrants for the town. It was his love of skiing though that lead him down the path to Juniata. The teacher who runs the high school ski club is a Juniata alumnus, Mr. Ehasz. He is loved by the high school kids and he talked to our son about the prospect of attending Juniata – the seed was planted!   

Soon after, our high school hosted a college day and Juniata was on the list of schools that would be in attendance. Juniata’s Kat Swantak, Assistant Dean of Admission, was front and center, and noticed our son’s interest in the school. It must have been an intriguing conversation because our son came home proclaiming Juniata was his first college choice! 

As parents, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised, but knew nothing about the college except its location, somewhere in Pennsylvania. Quickly looking online, the fast facts aligned with his ability and interests. We also discovered that Juniata’s mascot is an eagle, bald eagles, we love eagles. This has to be a good sign. Then the inevitable question came.

Can we afford to send him there if he gets accepted, and will he receive enough merit aid to make it a financially sound choice?”

We quickly registered for Juniata’s Open House and had the opportunity to meet with Kat in person. I instantly realized why our son connected with her. She’s very personable, with a hint of playful sarcasm, the kind most teens relate to. Kat provided a well-informed overview of the College, and talked to us about why she felt our son was a perfect fit. For the campus tour we were thrilled to be paired with a senior student who was soon to be graduating with a POE in Environmental Science, the subject Gavin wanted to study. Our son appreciated his candidness and hearing about his personal journey while at Juniata. Impressed by the campus, the Raystown Lake Environmental Field Station, faculty and students alike, we started the college application process as soon as we got home. In total, six college applications were submitted.    

As time went by, the acceptance letters started to come in, but not from Juniata just yet. So, we continued to wait in eager anticipation. One morning, as I was driving to work, I received an incoming call from my son. He handed the phone to Mr. Ehasz who tells me to pull over since he had some good news to share. Good news. What could he possibly mean?

So there I was, sitting in the car in a church parking lot. Eager to hear what he had to say. Juniata had sent Gavin’s acceptance letter to his high school so Mr. Ehasz to personally hand deliver it and congratulate our son on his college acceptance. I’ll be the first to admit I cried. Why don’t I have any tissues in the car! Finally the wait was over, he did it! Even better, Kat worked with us personally to ensure Gavin earned merit scholarships, and Mr. Ehasz applied for the Juniata Community Scholarship, an added $1,000 per year scholarship – it all added up in our favor, the wait was officially over, how exciting!     

My son, Gavin kayaking with his fellow students during their Inbound program.

To make sure our son was making the right choice, we waited until he received all six college responses before notifying Juniata of his decision. Looking back, this probably wasn’t necessary, but I wanted his choice to be a well-informed one. Now, Gavin is a second semester freshman, and we are so very proud of him, and love the confidence he has found within. It’s difficult to let go, but we know he is on the right path, learning, self-advocating, exploring new opportunities, and making friends for life as he creates the foundation for his next chapter in life.

Thank you Kat and Juniata!

-Erin Steward P’23, Morris County, NJ