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Scholarships Open Doors of Opportunity

Senior Katrina Caldwell-Russell (r), Cody Dickson (l), and Joy Triplett have teamed up to fight crime through a generous scholarship program.

Scholarships Open Doors of Opportunity

The lives of Katrina Caldwell-Russell, a bubbly Sam Houston State University student from Dallas, and Joy Triplett, the mother of a murder victim, teamed up at the College of Criminal Justice in an ongoing effort to fight crime.

Senior Caldwell-Russell sees a bright future ahead in the criminal justice field with a federal agency, as a victim counselor or perhaps by combating identity theft. But the best part of all is that she will start her career in May debt-free.

Russell is the recipient of three scholarships from the College of Criminal Justice as well as Pell and Texas Resident grants. Without this assistance, she probably wouldn’t have made it to college.

“I come from an impoverished background, and my Mom and Dad are disabled,” said 21-year old Russell. “They haven’t had a hand in any of the monetary aspect of my college career.  I thank God for the donors’ special tributes to student. I could not get by without receiving scholarships.”

Russell, who was born and raised in Dallas, works full-time as the manager of Cato Fashions. She also carries a full load at Sam Houston State University, where she majors in criminal justice and minors in psychology. She came to the College of Criminal Justice with dreams of becoming a homicide detective, but after learning about the diverse opportunities in the field, she is ready to tackle the world.

“I first came in wanting to be a homicide detective,” Russell said. “As I went through the years, I found I wanted to do a little of all of it.”

Russell hopes to get a federal job and has eyed working for Immigration and Customs Service. After taking a class in Understanding Human Behavior, she became interested in victim services and would consider a career helping victims of child abuse, elder abuse and rape. She recently spoke to a contact working against identity theft, and she may pursue opportunities in that area.

Russell also wants to keep her options open and plans to take the GRE to further her education in the future.

Since her sophomore year, Russell has received three scholarships from the College of Criminal Justice, including the Daughters of the American Revolution, the E.A. “Bud” Olson Scholarship 100 Club of Houston and the Sarah and Michael Cleary Scholarship.  The DAR scholarship was given in honor of the organization’s 100th Anniversary and the Olson Endowment Scholarship was set up by the 100 Club in honor of a longtime board member.

The Cleary scholarship is given in memory of Sarah Janine Cleary and also to honor Michael Cleary, a 1997 SHSU graduate. Russell got to meet Sarah’s mother Joy Triplett, at the Honor’s Convocation. “Her Mom was so sweet,” she said.

Russell encourages other students to apply for scholarships at SHSU and said the process is “easy.” There are about 80 scholarships available in the College of Criminal Justice alone, with many more opportunities throughout the university.

“It’s really simple,” said Russell. “All you have to do is go to ScholarX on the SHSU Web site. You fill out one application, and you apply for all of them.”

The application requests personal information and essays on mentors, career goals or participation with organizations on campus. Many of the clubs offer scholarships. Applications are generally due in February for the following year and are awarded in April.

Russell credits her incentive to go to college with “The Rae” program at Justin F. Kimball High School in Dallas. By taking the ACT and SAT, applying to two colleges a month and meeting with the student advisor, Former Dreamworks Founder Roger Enrico introduced a program to cover tuition after scholarships for students from the school.  In addition, Enrico provided a $500 grant to all students who took and passed AP classes, which help Russell pay for her senior expenses.

“You hear the advertisement that there are millions of dollars out there in unclaimed scholarships – it’s true,” Russell said. “It has not had to come out of my pocket for tuition, housing, and car expenses, and I am going to graduate debt-free. I am blessed and thankful. Words cannot express my appreciation to the donors.”

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When Jim and Joy Triplett lost their daughter, Sarah Janine Cleary, in a double homicide in Montgomery County  in 1997, they established an endowment in her memory at Sam Houston State University College of Criminal Justice and in honor of their son, Michael Griffin Cleary, then a senior criminal justice major at the College.

The family’s intention was to help prevent a similar tragedy from happening to another family by supporting the education of a criminal justice professional.

“We want to prevent something like this from happening to a family like ours,” Joy Triplett said in a recent interview.

After graduation, Michael Cleary worked initially in risk management and insurance for several different companies before landing a job with the Hilti Corporation. In addition, Michael is the proud father of three boys.

“We are very proud of Michael,” said Joy Triplett. “During the most difficult time in his life, he faced this and completed his education. He had the support of the administration and professors during the hardest time of his life, and they provided tremendous support.” 

Since 1997, the Cleary endowment has financially assisted 47 scholarships for those in criminal justice, including at least one Ph.D. graduate in the field. For the Tripletts, the scholarships have put a positive spin on a dark chapter in their lives.

“It’s always a very positive, hopeful time for us,” said Joy Triplett of the two annual ceremonies that unite donors and recipients. “Even though Sarah is not with us, her memory lives on in the students who will go on to careers in law enforcement. We always hoped that because of something tragic, something positive came out of it.”

Joy Triplett enjoys following the students as they progress through their college careers, and several students have been awarded the scholarship over consecutive years. Joy Triplett gets to meet students during the Scholarship Luncheon in the fall and College of Criminal Justice Honors Convocation in the Spring.

One of the scholarship recipients, Cody Dickson, received the scholarship for several years and became close friends to the Tripletts. As a SHSU baseball player, Dixon invited the family to his baseball game, where they were able to meet Cody’s parents.

“It is a personal touch to know the family,” Joy Triplett said.

In the Spring of 2011, the endowment awarded four scholarships, including Katrina Caldwell-Russell.  The student’s parents are both disabled and were unable to help her with college costs.  Now a senior, Russell could not attend school if it had not been for scholarships. She expects to graduate in May debt-free.

“I think it gives them the opportunity to attend college to get a degree without accumulating a substantial debt,” Triplett said.

Before her death, Sarah Janine Cleary was a 1997 Magna Cum Laude graduate of Westfield High School and the recipient of a scholastic scholarship to the Louisiana State University Honors Program. In a statement that accompanies eachapplication form, the Tripletts keep Sarah’s memory alive.

It reads:

“Sarah was a very kind, loving, free-spirited, Christian who was excited about her life and future. She was an exceptionally bright, multi-talented individual, who craved learning and academic achievement and recognition as an intelligent, versatile individual. Sarah was very strong-minded and very committed to the principles she believed in. She was the love and joy of our lives.

"This scholarship was established to keep Sarah's memory alive. We are also hopeful that each recipient will take her/his education as seriously as Sarah did and will dedicate her/his life to making this world a safer place in which to live.

"We hope that our efforts in establishing this scholarship will not only keep Sarah's memory alive but will also prevent others from experiencing the painful loss we feel for our loving daughter Sarah."

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