In today’s entry into our Create-A-Greeting-Card Scholarship Look Back Series, we have an interview with the 2010 Scholarship winner, Dawnee Burson. We recently caught up with Dawnee to see what she has been up to and were able to find out how the $10,000 scholarship came along at just the right time! Read on to find out just how amazing a person Dawnee really is and the things she was able to persevere through. It truly is inspirational.
1. How did you hear about the scholarship contest?
I found it online through scholarships.com. It’s kind of an interesting story. I had looked for scholarships on that website and saved those that were my favorite months back. I was going to apply for graduate school, but was also thinking of a mission for our church. I’m LDS, or a Mormon, and women can serve a mission if they choose for 18 months. One night I got really sick. I thought I just had the flu and went to work, but my dad was worried about me. He called me at work and asked about different symptoms and I started to realize I had had them over the past months. He told me he was picking me up and taking me to the hospital and he and my mom ended up taking me in and I had emergency abdominal surgery for a cyst that had ruptured. I was lucky I made it in just barely in time or my outcome might have been worse; I might not be here. I’m very grateful to my parents for watching out for me at that time and for my hometown community’s support. I came through surgery ok, but unfortunately caught the swine flu shortly after as it was going around New Mexico at the time. I recovered from that but went through a long and rather grueling recovery period that lasted about six months. It was a very difficult time, and it pretty much ruled out going on a mission. I actually took the GRE not long after surgery; it was definitely a rough exam that day. I got accepted into graduate school, which was great, but due to costs of the surgery and repeated doctor appointments I wasn’t sure how I was going to afford it. Still, I decided I was going to go and find a way to do so. I returned to scholarships.com hoping I could find the scholarships I’d saved months ago there and try for one of them.
2. How many scholarships did you apply for?
I applied for a couple with the college I planned to go to and started a couple of those online, but then decided to just focus on this one because I wasn’t doing well, had very little energy, and this was my favorite of them all. It seemed fun and provided such an amazing award, and it gave me something enjoyable to do while I was down. I’ve also always liked cards and thought they’d be fun to design, so it was right up my alley. Plus, I loved the fact that it provided another smaller award that would benefit your school. That is such a cool idea! I have to tell you, though, friends and I used to joke that we didn’t even know if the scholarships online were a real thing. Coming from such a small town, you don’t really know of anyone who’s ever received anything like this or of the companies that provide such contests. It seemed almost unbelievable to think that a company would do something like this, but I certainly hoped the scholarship contests were real and was going to give it a shot because I desperately needed it.
3. What was the idea behind your entry?
I love the outdoors, the mountains, and country homes nestled in beautiful areas. I know a lot of people love that, so I thought I would try to paint a scene portraying that and used my parent’s log home and the Montana mountains where I spent my summers growing up as elements for it. I’ve also seen cards showing all four different seasons and thought I might try a type of calendar card showing the same setting in all four seasons. Since oil paint hardens, oxidizing rather than drying, I thought I might be able to overlay clear plastic sheets on top of a canvas and just paint sections on those sheets to change the season. I had no idea if it would really work, but after doing the first layer and finding the oil paint stuck, it seemed like it was going to, so I created a few more that could be layered one on top another to change the seasons (summer over fall, spring over summer and fall, and winter over the other three seasons layers). I also thought of kids. I know kids love different things like that and thought they might like a card where you could flip one season over like a flip chart to see the next season below.
4. Did you create the entry specifically for the contest or did you submit a piece you already had?
I created the entry specifically for the contest and tried to make it something that would work card-size.
5. How long did it take to create your entry?
It took many months to create. I would paint part of it, then rest for a while till I had energy again and the paint had hardened. Oils oxidize rather than dry so it takes a long time for layers to set before you can paint another layer—sometimes days. I didn’t finish it in time for the year I intended to send it in. I considered doing a quick job to finish it but decided I would wait till the next year and make it a little better. It was hard to wait because I worried whether the competition would occur again the next year; I know things can change, but I waited and sent it in the following year after I’d finished it to the standard I wanted and that turned out to be the most perfect timing actually.
6. Does your entry have any special meaning to you?
It has a lot of special meaning. I think it shows a glimpse of what I love and what a lot of people love. I love the mountains, country areas, and the old style fence you see in the painting. I’m pretty patriotic and I love our land; we are lucky to have so many beautiful areas and I tried to make the scene one. I also love a lot of the simple things in life I tried to stick in the painting—gardens, tire swings, and anything to do with Christmas! Also, I spent my summers on my grandmother’s ranch in Montana growing up, a country area that will always have a special place in my heart, and I was trying to add some aspects of that country to the painting.
7. Where were you when you received the news that you won the $10,000 Scholarship prize?
I was in my apartment at college working on a paper.
8. What was going through your mind when you found out that you won?
About twenty things at once! Disbelief, elation, and a lot of gratitude being the top. I was trying to keep myself contained through our conversation. I was also trying not to laugh at Mr. DeVore’s nonchalant way of telling me I won. He had a good sense of humor in it all and was patient with my stumbling excitement.
9. Who was the first person you told after you found out that you won?
My mom, then my dad and brothers, then my roommate and friends, and then . . .
10. Did you celebrate in any way?
After I calmed down from jumping around in my apartment in excitement and gratitude I definitely did! My roommate and I went out to dinner and celebrated.
11. Have you recommended this contest to other people you know?
I have mentioned this contest to many many people and encouraged people to try for it or to try another type of scholarship contest because . . . they are real! And they are wonderful. Any artist reading this ought to give it a shot, you never know until you try, or continue to try if need be.
12. Did receiving the $10,000 scholarship change your school plans in any way?
It completely changed my plans. I was planning to quit graduate school if I didn’t receive the scholarship to work full time so I could save enough money to return and complete my degree. I have held at least one job all throughout getting my education, usually two, but the costs of a graduate degree can be steep.
13. How did receiving the $10,000 scholarship help you with your education?
Honestly, I wouldn’t have my education right now without it. I wouldn’t have completed graduate school, and I wouldn’t have the great job I have now.
14. What did you use the $10,000 for?
I used it for tuition mostly and some rent.
15. Which school did the $1,000 prize go to?
The $1,000 prize was given as a scholarship to another student, Michaela Stuver, at our college (the College of Natural Resources, Utah State University) and I was allowed to present it to her; that was, honestly, one of the coolest parts of this scholarship, especially as Michaela was pursuing her education to do some neat things in a related field.
16. What was your schools reaction to receiving the $1,000 prize?
Everyone was so pleased! When the cards came out, the college purchased cards to send out for that year’s Christmas cards and sent one to me here in Arizona. I think the scholarship spread some good will and excitement.
17. What are you currently doing?
I currently work as a NEPA planner (NEPA stands for the National Environmental Policy Act) with the Forest Service in one of the most beautiful areas of the Southwest and an area I used to want to live in when I was little— I really lucked out. I feel really blessed.
18. What did you study in college?
My master’s degree was in natural resources with a NEPA certificate. I just received my diploma in the mail a couple weeks ago.
19. What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about entering the scholarship contest?
Do it, don’t doubt yourself, take a chance and do something creative you’ve thought about, and if it doesn’t work out, don’t quit, continue to build on what you know and try again. Success is often built on the stepping stones of failed attempts. I can’t remember how many times Edison tried to make a light bulb work, but it was many. And when he had one of the first models that actually worked, he handed it to a boy who dropped it and it shattered. Twenty four hours later after creating a working model again, he handed it to the same boy. I’ve done contests of various types throughout my life many without the hoped for results, but others that have worked out. You’ll never know what could happen if you don’t try, and give it your best try, and you’ll never know what you can do or come up with if you don’t challenge yourself. Plus, like Edison was with the boy, you’d be amazed at the people willing to take a chance on you or support you, even when they don’t even know you.
20. Were you always interested in art or design?
I have always been interested in art. I always liked to draw and paint and since we didn’t have a lot of elective courses to choose from in our school I took art almost every year if not every year. I had a truly good art teacher who moved to our small town for a few years and he really helped me with painting. I have actually been trying to locate him to send him a card.
21. How did it feel when you first saw the card produced with your design?
Excited, grateful, and motivated to continue painting, and I am. I hope to be able to learn from some other artists, possibly try a few new mediums, and if I can get my pieces to look like I want, perhaps do a few art shows down the road.
22. Do you still have one of your cards?
I certainly do. I have it framed as a reminder of the incredible good things that can happen if you keep your head up through hard times and of the good people willing to give to help a complete stranger in life.
We are honored that even though Dawnee was going through so much at the time, she still took the time to submit such an amazing piece of artwork to us. We want to thank Dawnee again for taking the time out to answer our questions and we hope you enjoyed catching up with Dawnee as much as we did!!!