When Dylan Ruebl found out he had won a $7,000 scholarship for getting vaccinated, he felt relief. Finally he’d have enough money to pay off this semester’s tuition.
Ruebl, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, received the vaccine in May and was automatically entered into the drawing after submitting proof of his vaccination to the school. On Tuesday he became one of 70 students who won $7,000 scholarships from UW System President Tommy Thompson’s “70 for 70” vaccine campaign.
The scholarship recipients span 11 campuses in the UW System where the vaccination rate reached above 70% by the end of October. Only one campus, UW-Platteville, did not meet Thompson’s goal set this summer.
The incentive campaign was an alternative to vaccine mandates, which Thompson has long said he disagrees with. The UW System does not require its students to be vaccinated, but last month, Thompson announced all employees, including student workers, would need to be inoculated to comply with President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees.
Some have criticized his lax policies. Thompson says the “70 for 70” campaign is an achievement.
“I believe in encouraging, rather than mandating, vaccines, and the scholarship incentive was a great motivator,” a press release quoted Thompson. “We took up a challenge to educate and inform students as a part of a vaccination campaign to help keep our universities safe — and it has succeeded.”
In a short video posted on social media, Thompson celebrated the conclusion of the campaign, announcing its success to the “Board of Mascots,” a group of university mascots who silently cheered him in unison.
The statement said it’s a “thrill” to tell students they’ve won a scholarship.
The UW System gave away $490,000 in scholarships total, with $105,000 of the prize money going to 15 winners at UW-Milwaukee, according to UW System spokesperson Mark Pitsch. Campuses in Eau Claire, La Crosse and Whitewater each had eight winners. Four students who attend in Green Bay and River Falls received the scholarships.
Among the seven UW-Oshkosh winners, Ruebl he’d been scrambling to figure out how to pay off the remaining $3,000 on his account for tuition. “I was really worried about everything,” he said.
After the university informed him that he won, he called his mom and his grandma, who also went to UW-Oshkosh. It was all good luck: Just the day before, he told his family he had no idea how he'd be able to afford school.
“Then the next day, I got the news,” Ruebl said. “I won the scholarship and I was really excited.”
Madi Clayton, one of the winners at UW-Stevens Point — where the student vaccination rate is 74% — said finding out she won felt like the “best kind of fever dream.” She said the campaign taught her one lesson: “Getting vaccinated can pay off in unexpected ways.”
Megan Karczewski, another UW-Stevens Point winner, also feels grateful for the funds. She initially received the vaccine early during the pandemic due to her job at a pharmacy.
As time passed, she forgot about Thompson’s campaign and was “caught off guard” when UW-Stevens Point invited her to pick up a prize on campus.
At 8:30 in the morning, she rolled out of bed and made her way to the office, where UW-Stevens Point Chancellor Thomas Gibson was there to greet her. “This is different from what I was expecting,” Karczewski recalled.
She spun a wheel to pick her prize: a gift card to a coffee shop, which she thought was awesome.
“I think I have something you might like more — you’ve won a $7,000 scholarship!” Gibson said, revealing a large check. Karczewski was speechless.
Six #UWSP students were randomly selected to win a $7,000 tuition credit from @UWSystem through the 70 for 70 campaign! Congratulations to Cortez Clark, Jadyn Clarner, Madi Clayton, Megan Karczewski, Nicole Luoma, and Emily Patton who are among the 71% of vaccinated students! pic.twitter.com/rk7T4ndMoe— UW-Stevens Point (@UWStevensPoint) November 16, 2021
“I couldn’t even process it because I was so shell shocked by everything that happened,” she said. “This is actually perfect for me because I’ve been trying to figure out how to pay for college, especially with this being my second time around.”
Karczewski, a geospatial sciences student, decided this year to pursue a second bachelor's degree at UW-Stevens Point. “It was really hard to find opportunities and ways to pay for that as a non-traditional student,” she said. “With my last degree, I have a lot of general education requirements met already, so this scholarship can pretty much pay for the majority of the schooling I need to go back for.”
“I was super excited that, just for getting a vaccine, I was able to get something amazing in return.”