Brad Harken (1st Quarter, 2007)

by Josh Barsch on August 20, 2010

1st Quarter, 2007
Engineering Scholarship Winner
Brad Harken

Brad Harken is a 2007 graduate of Grundy Center High School, Grundy Center, Iowa. He is enrolled as a freshman in the engineering program at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is in the freshman Fessendon Honors Engineering Study program. He is planning to major in civil engineering, with an emphasis in environmental engineering.

A Portion of Brad’s Winning Essay:

Brad Harken

Brad Harken

Saving for college is something that my family has valued since I was a small child. For my two brothers and me, monetary birthday gifts were at least partially put in our savings accounts, with the goal of paying for college tuition. When I began delivering newspapers at age nine, my earnings were targeted for college savings. The paper route definitely helped me learn the value of money because I worked hard for what I earned from delivering the approximately 35 papers, six days per week. My parents were available to drive me on Sunday mornings, but weekday afternoons I rode my bike. The paper route continued for four years.

My next job was summertime detasseling in the Iowa cornfields. Known as dirty and hot work performed in humid July weather, I’ve grown accustomed to the routine of walking through the tall rows of corn, pulling tassels and throwing them to the ground in preparation for harvest by the seed corn company Pioneer. The seed corn companies provide better hourly wages than many jobs, and even though it’s short lived, the earnings beef up my college fund each summer. I’ve been part of the same detasseling crew for four years, beginning the summer after 8th grade.

When I turned sixteen, I started work as a cashier at the local grocery store, and I have now worked there more than two years, approximately two to three shifts per week. I plan to work at the grocery store until I leave for college in August, 2007. However, the savings from nine years of working pale in comparison to the costs of college. While it seems that I am conservative with my money, my personal savings amount to about one year of costs at a public university. Thus, scholarships that I can earn due to merit or my family’s financial need will be extremely welcome in order for me to reach my goal of graduating in an environmental engineering program, and possibly attending graduate school.


My goals for school include spending at least one summer in a Spanish-speaking country because I’ve taken four years of Spanish and am considering a college minor in the subject. The time spent in a summer academic program will limit my summer earning capacity for at least one summer, which is another reason any merit scholarships that I can earn will be extremely helpful to me reaching my goals. In addition, the curriculum of an engineering student is very demanding, so it may be difficult to maintain employment while enrolled in college. There will likely be opportunities for jobs assisting professors with research once I am an upperclassman, which sounds extremely rewarding, but likely not high-paying.

The costs of attending college and possibly graduate school have never deterred me from my goal. However, a StraightForward Media Engineering School Scholarship would be extremely helpful with my life-long goal of graduating from college.

Math has long been a favorite subject of mine, and teachers and other adults regularly remarked how my talent for math would surely lead me to pursue a career in accounting or finance. My decision to enroll in college-level economics courses while a sophomore in high school was based on the assumption that I would pursue a career relating to money and finance. Little did I know that my exposure to economics and finance would lead me instead in a very different direction.

Economics is based on the allocation of goods and services, and the coursework caused me to consider our global economy’s dependence on adequate resources. In a world in which our population is expanding, resources like clean water, food, and energy are becoming increasingly scarce. From this perspective, the study of accounting or finance seemed inconsequential, but I wasn’t sure what would replace it as a likely career.

Eighteen months ago, a summertime mission trip to a Chicago homeless shelter further triggered my desire to help in a meaningful way. As residents of a small Iowa community that sits in the middle of some of the best farmland in the world, hunger and need were not everyday concerns for my fellow students and me. However, our youth group’s visit to the South Side shelter challenged all my previous assumptions about homelessness and poverty. I’ll never forget our arrival at the shelter. As the dozen members of my youth group walked inside the dismal building, we gazed around at a room full of people. An awkward silence lasted only a few seconds before we were invited to pull up a chair, sit down, and learn how to play a new card game.

As we laughed along with our hosts and answered questions about where we were from, it was easy to forget that these people had no real home, no money, no food, no nothing. As we connected through the card game, I didn’t think of them as homeless people; they were simply people. When I returned to Iowa, my thoughts continually returned to the people I had met. Although it was unique to have been a minority for a few days and exciting to be in a big city, it was seeing homelessness in person that weighed on me. I’d heard stories of people who are homeless, and it was easy to think it was their own fault. However, these “victims of circumstance” were different because I could put a name and face with them. I now had a deeper understanding of entrenched poverty and how victims are born into it without choice.

The resources available to the people of the shelter paled in comparison with those of an average high school student in my community. “Why?” I wondered. Why is it that society values the entertainment industry so much that celebrities can afford to spend an average person’s salary on clothes, but does not value humanity enough to ensure that everyone in our country has enough food? I realized that the poverty I witnessed at that one Chicago shelter was a miniscule piece of the suffering that exists worldwide, which left me even more frustrated.

My unanswered questions have not yet left my mind. It’s evident that the cycle of poverty can be broken only when necessary resources are more readily available to everyone. The issue of who gets what is destined to become more difficult as the global population expands exponentially. Its potential to create an even bigger gap between rich and poor and between nations that can afford to feed their people and nations that cannot could create an uneasy world in my lifetime. How could I help break the cycle?

I was further nudged toward a career in engineering when a promotional brochure from the university I was interested in attending arrived in my mailbox my junior year in high school. My national merit test scores in science and math had prompted many such mailings. “Ten signs that engineering could be right for you,” the brochure read. “#1 You’re good at math and science. #2 You’re curious. #3 You’d like to make a difference in our world in very practical ways,” and the list went on.

I could identify with each of the statements, and I was encouraged to keep reading. “Engineering: the problem solving profession” the brochure boldly stated. I want to study a discipline that focuses on solving problems. My decision to study engineering had evolved. The revelation prompted me to research the various fields of engineering to learn what discipline would best equip me to help.

Environmental engineering is the field I have decided to pursue. At the University of Iowa, which is just two hours from my hometown, renowned programs in engineering allow students to help research various ways to help improve our communities, the environment, and global agriculture. The possibilities are endless, and the opportunity to be a problem solver is exciting.

As an engineering student I will acquire the knowledge and tools to solve problems, and with a focus in environmental engineering, I can eventually contribute to a solution-perhaps even one that makes strides toward eliminating hunger. Creating new sources of renewable energy, improving methods of growing food in varying climates, and designing tools to clean up after a burgeoning human population would be within my realm as an environmental engineer. The future excites me because I feel like I have found what I was meant to do. I’m counting on time and further education to reinforce my instinct.

Copyright 2007, StraightForwardMedia.com. All rights reserved.

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