Michael Traversa
Benedictine University
McGraw Foundation Emergency Financial Aid

Michael Traversa is working in jobs he had hoped for after graduating from college. Now a strength and conditioning coach at Benedictine University and Morton College in the Chicago area, Traversa says he’s grateful for opportunities to work in his chosen field so soon after college. “That was the goal, “he says. “I just didn’t think I’d be so lucky that fast.”

Traversa explains that he and his four siblings were raised by their maternal grandparents. They made it possible for them to attend Catholic primary and secondary schools. After graduating from high school, Traversa started college at a Chicago-area university, but says he didn’t do well academically. He left and took two years off from school before starting at Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois, in 2015.

“The reason I wanted to go to Benedictine was growing up in Chicago, there were a lot of distractions,” Traversa says. Benedictine was a good choice, he says, because it offered a new experience and it was close to Chicago and his family. He was also attracted by Benedictine’s exercise science and football programs. Traversa played on Benedictine’s football team for two years, most recently as a lineman and tight end. During his senior year in 2019, Traversa was presented the Tom Wirtz Award for Courage and Integrity, one of Benedictine’s top awards for student athletes.

While he was a student, Benedictine University helped Traversa with scholarships and grants, but he didn’t have quite enough to pay for tuition in his senior year. Someone in the financial aid office recommended Traversa apply for an emergency financial aid grant from the McGraw Foundation, through ACI. With that extra help, Traversa finished and graduated in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and sport studies.

“I actually was the first one to finish college in my family,” Traversa says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that if it wasn’t for all the help that I got from Benedictine and I got from the McGraw scholarship … I’m very thankful and very appreciative.”

Working as a personal trainer while at Benedictine helped Traversa gain experience in strength and conditioning, and to make professional connections. He credits people such as Matt Saey, head strength and conditioning coach at Benedictine, for opening doors to opportunities.

Scholarships are “incredibly important” for some students who need financial help that helps them earn degrees, Traversa says. “I hope that I can end up making enough money one day to give money back to students,” he says. “That’s what I would do because I see how important it is. It really truly is so crucial to some people’s lives.”

Nicolas “Nico” Cardenas
Judson University
ACI General Scholarship 

Nicolas “Nico” Cardenas knew he wanted to attend a Christian university. Practicing their faith is important to him and his family, so they looked at several Christian-affiliated colleges before deciding on nearby Judson University. “What I really liked about Judson University was that it is a small university,” Cardenas says. “The community there is very uplifting.” Knowing and interacting with professors while studying for a degree was also an important plus, he says.

Cardenas, the youngest of two siblings from Streamwood, Illinois, is now a junior majoring in psychology and piano performance, with hopes of going into social work. “There are a lot of opportunities at Judson, such as working with the RISE Program or other places nearby that love to have Judson University students,” he says. “I’m currently thinking about interning at the Boys and Girls Club in Elgin. That’s kind of where I want to go, into social work or DCFS.”

Cardenas’ interest in psychology comes from his parents, who have done counseling through their church. “I really wanted to make an impact in my community. I’ve been working with the youth ministry of my church and the children’s ministry of my church. I want to help kids have a different perspective on their problems. I just want to make a difference, honestly.” In addition, Cardenas is a self-taught pianist and plays at his church. At Judson, he plays in a piano ensemble is learning how to read music. “I’ve been loving it ever since. They’re developing this artistic sense in me, and it’s been a really cool experience,” Cardenas says. He gets to share his musical talents with the university’s worship team, and his band plays regularly at Judson’s chapel services.

Cardenas and his father learned about the ACI General Scholarship through the financial aid office at Judson. “It’s just been absolute blessing to have,” he says. “It’s really cool to have extra support from someone who honestly doesn’t know me, but yet they still believe in me.”

Cardenas explained that he helps support himself through a part-time job as a pizza-delivery driver, and his parents’ help. “That’s why the scholarship has been an absolute blessing for my family. It’s just an extra support, and it takes an extra weight off their shoulders, and I’m very grateful to see that. Just random people wanting to support me and also supporting my family as well. A complete blessing,” he says.

To donors who support students such as him, Cardenas says their help inspires him. “Your donations, your support for me, gives me the desire to want to help people in the future … to do the same thing that you’re doing because you’re heroes to us.”


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