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Choosing his own path

Travis Orr is an agent of change. His primary goal at the University of New Haven (UNH), in Connecticut, is to change his own prospects in life, to use his education to launch a career that will be about more than financial stability (although for Travis, that would be a change in itself ), and to enter a field he is passionate about.

In pursuit of that goal, the Barre, Vermont, native has already changed the world around him. Because of him, UNH modified some of its dormitory and campus amenities to make them hospitable to students with disabilities. Travis also receives 28.5 hours a week of subsidized personal assistance through the Self-Directed Care program, administered in Vermont by the Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living. "That was groundbreaking as well," he says, "because they'd never had a student receive these services out of state."

Travis, 25, has cerebral palsy, but his afflictions pretty much end there. They do not extend to his ambitions — carrying a double major, he will graduate in 2010 with a business-related BA in music and a BS in sports management — or to his capacity for gratitude. Reflecting on the donors to VSAC's Vermont Scholarship Fund, who helped make his postsecondary education possible, he says, "I would begin with the most genuine thank you, even to those who didn't donate to me personally. They're helping all of us. Scholarships and grants have put me in a position to be successful in a way I want to be, not in a way that financial conditions would have dictated."

Left to those conditions, Travis' story would have been different. Travis was an only child in a single-parent household, and he recalls, "It was always bill-to-bill. We never had the ability to save; but it was a good life, with a good family," which included his self-educated grandparents, whom he considers his mentors. In terms of college financing, Travis encountered some challenges after graduating from Spaulding High School in 2002. He was accepted to UNH, but had difficulty managing his financial aid package from a federal lender and thus had to leave after his freshman year. Through VSAC, however, he was able to arrange a workable combination of resources and return to school. Upon graduation, Travis will have spent six years in college, and he anticipates a sizeable debt. However, the alternative would have been to let conditions dictate his future. That's just not Travis Orr's style.