Soldotna woman wins state scholarship

Alaska 529’s Scholarship Account Giveaway selects one person to receive $25,000.

A Soldotna woman received an unexpected birthday gift on Monday while out to lunch with her family — a $25,000 scholarship.

Earlier this year, Marta Taylor checked a box on her application for the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend designating that half of her check be put into an Alaska 529 education savings account. Little did she know, checking that box put her in the running for Alaska 529’s Scholarship Account Giveaway, which randomly selects one person to receive $25,000 from that savings account.

Taylor was already celebrating her birthday at Froso’s with her family when she received the good news. Representatives from the Education Trust of Alaska, the group that manages the 529 savings accounts through T. Rowe Price, flew down from Fairbanks to present Taylor with a birthday cake and a giant check.

“This is crazy … that’s a lot of money!” Taylor said.

Rather than using the money for her own tuition she intends to give the scholarship to her daughter, Ella Czarnezki, who is in 10th grade at River City Academy and plans to attend college in a few years.

“An education is such a gift, and to have money to put towards it in Ella’s case is just incredible. I’m thrilled.”

Taylor is currently taking online classes to obtain her degree in computer science and software engineering from Southern New Hampshire University. This will be Taylor’s second degree, as she earned a master’s degree in engineering earlier in life.

“I’m 50, so it’s time to go back to school,” Taylor said. “When I got my master’s degree in engineering I worked my way through school and borrowed student loans and scraped my way through. So to have this to give to my daughter is just such a gift.”

This year was the first time that Taylor checked the box for the 529 education savings account. She said she checked the box for her daughter as well. Czarnezki said that it was a really good feeling knowing that her mom was giving her the scholarship and that both her parents were investing in her future education.

“I don’t know where I want to go yet, but I have a few ideas of what I want to study,” Czarnezki said. “I’m thinking about architecture, or maybe engineering or some kind of science.”

Lael Oldmixon, who is the director of Alaska 529 and presented Taylor with the scholarship on Monday, confirmed that Taylor can use the funds for her daughter’s education.

The money can be used at any accredited institution that accepts federal student aid, she said, so Czarnezki’s options are wide open.

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