Believe, Achieve, Receive

Fellowships Office, TRiO helps first-generation college student land Fulbright award

Karlee Resler-Seek traveled a long, difficult path to college. Living in St. Joseph, Missouri, her family had limited access to healthcare and struggled with addiction. Her mom prioritized alcohol and cigarettes over food, and her dad was in and out of her life for 12 years, coming back sporadically to pay child support. Then, in high school, Resler-Seek’s mother died and she was raised by her older sister.

Karlee Resler-Seek stands in front of the Columns on Francis Quadrangle at the University of Missouri.
Karlee Resler-Seek will participate in the Fulbright Commission Summer Institute Program in 2021 at the University of Bristol in England.

“Most of my childhood, I remember my mom with a Natural Light in one hand and a cigarette in the other,” Resler-Seek says. “It was rare that she would spend time with me.”

Losing her mom in high school was one of the toughest things Resler-Seek dealt with. Her grief affected her performance in class, and her GPA fell during her sophomore and junior years.

But going into her senior year, Mizzou was her light at the end of the tunnel. After visiting campus in the summer of 2018, she fell in love. When her first semester began in the fall of 2019, she immediately set her sights on even greater accomplishments.

Resler-Seek signed up for TRiO, a program designed to help students in underrepresented categories. It connects students to others from similar circumstances, assists with tasks such as the FAFSA, introduces new Tigers to faculty members and facilitates scholarship opportunities.

“I participated in a ‘speed seminar’ through TRiO where you filled out your interests and they put you in a circle with Mizzou staff,” Resler-Seek says. “One of them was [writing mentor] Erik Potter.”

Potter, who works in the MU Fellowships Office, helps students tell their stories and apply for nationally competitive fellowships and scholarships. Resler-Seek was selected for the U.S.-U.K. Fulbright Commission Summer Institute Program at the University of Bristol. The three-week program focuses on arts, activism and social justice, areas to which Resler-Seek feels deeply connected.

“I have a double major in political science and communications, and I am very passionate about politics and social justice,” Resler-Seek says. “Art has been the biggest part of me and my spirit since I was a kid. Every aspect of this program really called to me and made me decide that this is what I want to do.”

The application process for the summer institute program was lengthy and rigorous. Resler-Seek wrote five essays that underwent multiple editing rounds. Once selected, she interviewed with faculty at the University of Bristol.

“The application process is really prestigious and official,” Resler-Seek says. “Things have to be done a certain way and you have to get all your ducks in a row. I spent the majority of winter break working on my essays.”

Because of Resler-Seek’s past — and because her parents faced a lot of the same struggles — she is inspired to change the world.

Karlee Resler-Seek poses in front of Memorial Union on Lowry Mall at the University of Missouri.
The MU Fellowship Office and the TRiO program helped Resler-Seek tell her story and land a life-changing scholarship.

“I always knew I wanted to help people,” Resler-Seek says. “I would love to be in front of Congress one day fighting for the rights of people who come from low-income backgrounds, who do not have health care and who need basic human rights.”

Through this program, Potter hopes that Resler-Seek can see the big picture for her future. He’s been in the same position as Resler-Seek and many other students, not seeing opportunities because of cost or class barriers, or perhaps feeling unworthy. He strives to help students hold themselves to high standards and seek avenues towards new goals.

“She represents the reason I’m doing this job,” Potter says. “This could be one of those experiences for her that really provides direction and changes her trajectory.”

Resler-Seek still finds it hard to believe that she landed the Fulbright. But she also knows that she earned it — and that motivates her to keep achieving.

“Be unapologetic,” Resler-Seek says. “Because at the end of the day, you’re the one who gets those things. You’re the one who earns a scholarship and you’re the one who gets into college.

You have the means to overcome your barriers.”