If I Can Walk …

Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing & Communications
Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Strategic Marketing & Communications

Scholarship Confirms Belief Student Can Achieve Anything

In the 21st century, what is the true value of a scholarship that allows a student to focus on his grades and graduate debt free? Matthew Birkinsha at the University of Missouri-Kansas City understands what it means.

A senior in the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, Birkinsha’s full-ride scholarship confirms he can achieve anything, which includes completing his degree in less than the normal time period and without any loans to repay.

Birkinsha is a recipient of the Sullivan Family Foundation, which is available to students in the Bloch School and the Conservatory of Music and Dance. The Foundation has supported more than 50 students.

“I’ve been trying to accelerate my education process. By the time I graduate, all my credits would have been earned in a two-and-a-half-year time period,” said Birkinsha. “This doesn’t leave a lot of time for working and making money, especially when I’ve taken as many as 21 credit hours in a semester. The scholarship will allow me to achieve my goal of graduating with no debt, and I’ve been able to focus my earnings on helping support my wife, Stacia, and 6-month old son, Harrison,” he said.

Birkinsha was seriously injured in what he calls a “life-changing event” and was told he might never walk again.

“Rather than give up and accept that as my fate, I gave my best effort through hard work and invested the time needed to recover. I was walking within three months,” he said. “I truly believe there isn’t anything I can’t do, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish my goals.”

Birkinsha works from home as a software tester at a seven-member tech start-up, which allows him to watch his son while his wife works at least 50 hours per week.

“I never sleep, and I take 18 credit hours, all in the evenings, four days a week. I also work 10 to 20 hours a week as a software tester,” said Birkinsha. “On top of that, I am a peer coach to freshmen, treasurer of the Bloch School Student Association and sitter for my son.

“Busy is an understatement, but success doesn’t come easily.”

He and his wife met in Michigan. They returned to Kansas City, where they both grew up, because they felt he could get a good education here and she could find a job that might not be available in a traditional college town. He chose UMKC because of its excellent business program and its location in the heart of the city.

Birkinsha learned about the Sullivan Scholarship through his relationships at the Bloch School.

“In order to avoid student debt, I previously worked closely with the Bloch School in getting financial aid from scholarships,” said Birkinsha. “I became aware of this scholarship for students who major in entrepreneurship that would completely cover my school expenses. Without the scholarship I wouldn’t be able to do this, and I would be struggling to pay for child care, school and living expenses.”

An entrepreneurship focus appealed to him for a number of reasons, including his desire to improve things in the workplace.

“I like making things better, whether it’s through new efforts or improving current business practices. That’s why this degree attracted me so much,” said Birkinsha. “Through the Innovative Management Track, I get to learn needed skills and how to apply them in new ventures, as well as in existing firms. I feel it gives me a real edge over my competition in the opportunities that it provides.”

While his future plans might include starting his own business, Birkinsha is looking for opportunities that allow him to be innovative and provide the needed experience to get into a top MBA program.

“I’m highly motivated to be successful. My education has shown me that there are multiple ways to be successful by joining a company or starting my own,” said Birkinsha. “I don’t like making specific plans because I feel like it boxes me in, but my education has opened more doors than I could have ever imagined.”

Birkinsha said Marilyn Taylor, Ph.D., professor and Gottlieb/Missouri Chair of Strategic Management; and Greg Farmer, adjunct instructor; inspired him to consider strategic management and leadership – skills he believes will benefit him as an entrepreneur or while climbing the corporate ladder.

One of his short-term goals is to work at a well-known corporate firm and attend a top MBA program at Harvard, Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University or Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. His career choice is still undecided, but in the meantime, he is making great use of his time.

On a final note, Birkinsha had kind words for his benefactor – William D. Sullivan – whom he was able to meet at the Best of Bloch Luncheon.

“He is very humble in what he did in his career,” said Birkinsha. “Mr. Sullivan was truly focused on serving others and giving back to the community. He is an example to me of the kind of business person I would like to be.”

|Wandra Brooks Green, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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