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Texas State Graduate College Alum shares her story and advice to current students

December 21, 2021
Written by Emily Garcia

Jessica Ramos-Karmaker, Technical Implementation Manager at Fringe Benefit Group, is an alum of The Graduate College who persevered to create a future in which she could support her family despite financial boundaries.

As an untraditional student, she received her Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A) and Master of Business Administration (M.B.A) from Texas State University completely funded by scholarships.

Ramos-Karmaker attended the University of Texas at Brownsville for a short time after graduating high school before leaving college to raise her newborn daughter. “My intention was never to get my bachelor’s, let alone a master’s degree,” Ramos-Karmaker said. “I decided I needed to finish what I started in 2004.” Nearly ten years later, a late-night conversation with her daughter would change the course of her life.

“I was working three part time jobs,” Ramos-Karmaker said. “One night I got home late, around 10:30 at night, and my daughter should have been in bed, but she was awake. I was surprised she was awake that late because the next day she had to go to school.”

Ramos-Karmaker asked her daughter why she was awake and told her that she needed to go to bed.

“She asked me ‘Why do you work a lot?’ and I told her ‘Because I need to buy you what you need,’” Ramos-Karmaker said. “She turned back around to me and said, ‘What is the point if you are never here?’”

These words are what prompted Ramos-Karmaker to ask herself what she needed to do to create a better life for herself and her family.

“I sat in bed and asked myself what I needed to change,” she said. “The only thing that came to mind was that I needed a better job. I need a job that pays [enough], so I don’t need to work three part-time jobs.”

Ramos-Karmaker’s first step toward this goal was to go back to school.

She started her academic journey at Austin Community College (ACC) as a part-time student, earning an Associate of Science in Business Administration.

While obtaining her associate degree, she was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society in which she would eventually serve as the Vice President of the Cypress Creek Chapter.

“As I was getting involved, I realized that I liked that part of [going to] school – interacting with other students and helping the school, and just being a part of something else than just going to class,” Ramos-Karmaker said. “During this time, I asked myself, ‘maybe I don’t have to stop here?’”

As Vice President of the honor society, and as a student who earned multiple scholarships at ACC, she held the responsibility of creating presentations about scholarship opportunities for students at different colleges and universities. It was at this time when she first visited the Texas State University Round Rock campus to give a scholarship presentation.

“When I walked onto the Round Rock campus, it was like a completely different atmosphere compared to other universities…As soon as we opened the door the administrative assistant greeted us and smiled…There were a couple of the advisors there that also greeted us…You just got this different feeling,” Ramos-Karmaker said.

“I turned to my friend who was there with me and said, ‘I feel like I’m already a student here,’…that’s how welcoming it was,” she said.

Ramos-Karmaker applied to Texas State University to pursue a B.B.A with the plan to attend as a part-time student.

Shortly after being accepted to the program, she was nominated by the McCoy College of Business to the Terry Foundation Scholarship.

The Terry Foundation is a Houston-based foundation that offers scholarships to outstanding high school and transfer students at thirteen Texas public universities, Texas State University being one of them.

Ramos-Karmaker was ultimately awarded the scholarship and was able to attend Texas State University as a full-time student to obtain her bachelor’s degree.

As her bachelor’s degree came to an end, she couldn’t bring herself to end her academic career.

“I kept asking myself, ‘what is the next step and where am I going from here?’” Ramos-Karmaker said.

That is when she made the decision to pursue her master’s degree.

With only one month of time between graduating with her bachelor’s degree and deciding to apply to graduate school for the next fall semester, she took the GRE test and was accepted into The Graduate College’s M.B.A program.

While obtaining her master’s degree, she continued using the funds she was awarded from the Terry Foundation Scholarship, won many scholarships offered by The Graduate College, and was nominated again by the McCoy College of Business for The Texas Business Hall of Fame Future Legends Scholar Award, in which she was awarded $15,000 to use toward funding the rest of her M.B.A.

Ramos-Karmaker said the biggest asset to her academic career was being involved with the university and what it had to offer.

“Don’t be that parking lot student,” she said. “To be a parking lot student means you go from the parking lot to class, and then you go home. You don’t get the full college experience until you stop and turn to look at what is going on around you…not just the classroom and the parking lot.”

She said traditional students sometimes don’t have the same sense of urgency as non-traditional students. They know how to slow down and live in the moment a bit more. She urges non-traditional students to try to absorb some of that from traditional students. “Don’t rush, instead enjoy school,” she said.

She also emphasized the importance of having a solid support system in your personal life to support you throughout your academic career.

“My husband has been super supportive. There is absolutely no way that I would have been able to do all this if he hadn’t had been as supportive as he was,” she said.

She wants current graduate students to know that the best way to earn a scholarship is to simply apply. Never let a scholarship opportunity slip past you, no matter how much money the scholarship is offering. Sometimes it is very easy to get in your own way and tell yourself that you are not good enough to apply for scholarship opportunities, but never let yourself stand in the way of your own potential, she said.

She suggests doing your research before applying.

“If you are going to do something, do it right from the beginning,” Ramos-Karmaker said.

Students interested in applying for scholarships should first make sure they are qualified to apply, otherwise they are wasting their time and could feel discouraged from applying to other scholarships that may be better suited to their qualifications, she said.

Ramos-Karmaker encourages students to read through a scholarship opportunity at least three times. The first time you read a scholarship opportunity should be to familiarize yourself with the content. The second time you read it should be to understand the content. The third time you read it should be to apply what the scholarship is offering to your needs as a student.

“I always tell students, if you make it to the third reading and you still qualify for the scholarship, then apply. Make sure you apply correctly,” she said.

Once you reach the next step of the scholarship application process, which usually includes either a phone or in-person interview, Ramos-Karmaker suggests to not let your nerves get the best of you.

“If you are nervous about the interview portion…suck it up! You are already there…your hair is done, your make up is done…you are there for a reason. Go into the interview with the mindset that you already won the scholarship,” she said.

For students interested in internal and external scholarship opportunities offered by The Graduate College, visit The Graduate College funding webpage for more information about how to fund your graduate degree. On this page, you will see that The Graduate College offers Shop Talks on how to apply for internal scholarships (i.e., those provided by The Graduate College) and also has a suite of services to help students apply for external funding.