Scholarship, hard work, support help Ukrainian student finish master's degree
By Katherine Adams
Most international students receive a visa that allows them to study in the United States for a certain period of time. For Oleksandra Petrenko, finding a way to leave Ukraine to study in the U.S. was much more challenging, since the best way she could come legally was through a work/travel visa program.
“It’s an extremely complicated process,” she said. “I wanted an American education, so I worked and saved, so I had a few thousand for a visa and a plane ticket, so I had the idea to give it a try and I came to Galveston on a work/travel visa program.”
She explained that she could not get a student loan in Ukraine, and she was very reluctant to take on any student loan debt from an American bank. “I got a job as a waitress in Galveston. I passed the GED and the SAT and I enrolled at Galveston College,” she said. “For me, because of international student fees, the tuition was more than in-state tuition for a four-year college, but I worked and I decided to pay as I go. That was my only option.”
After working 40-60 hours a week in at least fifteen restaurants in Galveston and in the Clear Lake area over the last eight years, Petrenko completed her associate’s degree at Galveston College, her Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering at University of Houston-Clear Lake in 2020, and will cross the stage this December to receive her Master of Science in Software Engineering.
“From the money I’ve been earning, I have been helping to support my parents, who are still in Ukraine,” she said. “I did not want to burden myself with any loans, and my parents were very against me getting into any kind of debt. I thought, if I pay as I go and simply go more slowly and keep working, I can do it without going into debt.”
Petrenko said among the reasons she was able to avoid incurring debt while attending UH-Clear Lake was the availability of scholarships.
“I received the Kamlesh and Satish Agarwal Software Engineering Scholarship,” she said. “Of course, this means financial help for me. I have been helping support my parents in Ukraine for a long time. Every dollar counts for me.”
She added that she wouldn’t have been able to do her education without the scholarship funds. “I couldn’t have completed it as successfully,” she said. “I came as an international student on my own in this country with only a little savings and a goal to get a degree without incurring debt, and the scholarship enabled me to continue with confidence and security.”
She recently began working in IT business analytics, where her income adds to the help she’s able to give her parents, as well as continue to pay for school. “The scholarship was a great help,” she said.
Petrenko says after graduation she hopes to continue her career in IT business analytics. With her new master’s degree, she will qualify for a managerial role. “At UHCL, I got a community feeling. I got so much help,” she said. “I always had professors who were available to me and people to counsel me.”
For more information about UHCL’s scholarship opportunities, visit www.uhcl.edu/costs-aid/scholarships