Students with Heart Foundation scholarship application letter

An iPhone picture of my heart last year.

I’ve decided to share a letter I recently wrote, which was sent to the Students with Heart Foundation, just in time for their annual scholarship deadline. Cross your fingers for me!


I’m back in school and Congential Heart Disease (CHD) has helped lead me here.

My name is Nick Rolinski and with the support of my wife, Mary, I am pursuing a Master’s Degree in Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my story as a graduate student with CHD and wish to submit an earnest appeal for financial support in accordance with my personal goals and the Foundation’s mission. In this letter, I will discuss life with CHD from my perspective; one of a husband, father, professional, and life-long learner. In addition, I will share how living with CHD has played a formative role in my development as a person, and how it relates to my priorities and ambitions, and finally, my decision to become an architect.

I was born with two related conditions; Bicuspid Aortic Valve and Coarctation of the Aorta. At Age 6, I received a balloon angioplasty to correct my coarctation at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan.

Unfortunately, the balloon expansion intended to mechanically dilate my narrow aorta left a very short section at the original restrictive diameter. Today, blood pressure upstream of this orifice-like contraction is higher than downstream, and I experience unilateral hypertension. In addition, some scarring remains at the angioplasty site, posing an aneurysm risk. I am told that the necessity for a second intervention (open-heart) is likely, along with a bicuspid valve upgrade. To be clear, the timeline for these events is not specified, and my aim is to stay healthy without them for now.

Despite my conditions, I’ve lived a reasonably privileged life, enjoying fairly stable health. However, along with frequent observation, I did have minor limitations growing up. I was instructed never to “over-do it” during physical activities, lift over fifty pounds, or get hit in the back. While this hall pass from PE class was an asset at times, it was also a looming reminder that a low failure threshold for my aorta might exist.

More importantly in my adult life, these minor restrictions have evolved into a mindset of vulnerability. On a daily basis, at varying levels of my sub-conscious, I over-monitor my physical fatigue and discomfort at the cost of a clear and focused mind. Distracting flickers of dread accompany simple tasks, like lifting my body out of bed in the morning, taking my hypertension pill, or working through daily fatigue (which is of course normal). The worst of them arise when I catch random glance from Mary, or a grin from Emaline.

A constant state of weighing opportunity costs can lead to a dominating melancholy, but this in turn causes real and immediate loss, while the hypothetical kind often remains a hollow threat. Thoreau posits that one cannot “kill time without injuring eternity”, and indeed, sulking in a state of subdued panic is a waste of my time, regardless of how scarce or abundant it may actually be. Fearing a probable surgery or surprise incident has taxed my mind and prevented moments from reaching their full potential and me from reaching mine. Moving forward, this costly overhead is to be avoided.

Today, at Age 27, I must reckon with these discoveries, and acknowledge that I’ve allowed my heart problem to lead to a head problem. I’m pleased to share that work has already begun, and in a related effort, a re-calibration of priorities has led to the significant decision to return to school to study architecture.

I’ve removed myself from a career that didn’t quite fit, and begun to custom-tailor a career around my endowments and interests. With a degree in architecture (to accompany my engineering degrees), I will pursue the following goals:

  • A role in academia, through training, mentoring and serving students;
  • Freedom to practice holistic design, as an engineer, architect, and entrepreneur;
  • Access to a dynamic international dialog: through research, writing, editing and photography, like my heroes in Architectural Journalism, Paul Goldberger, Witold Rybczynski, and Alain de Botton, and finally;
  • A “lifestyle career”, rather than a generic job, allowing me to live deliberately, even when I must be away from my loved ones at work.

Indeed, CHD’s silver lining is that it encourages us to be bold, take risks, and get our money’s worth while we can.

It covers a broad spectrum of challenges which are thrust upon children and parents every day. To this point, my challenges have been minor in comparison to what others have encountered, and for every flicker of dread, a giving of thanks tends to follow. Perhaps my biggest challenge has been the coupling of my pondering nature with a relatively serious but dormant threat. This coupling has provoked me to contemplate my situation far too deeply and frequently, like a hypochondriac who’s finally verified the suspicion of an ailment. Still, this is the first moment in my life where I’ve invoked my CHD in an earnest and serious context (normally, those of us with real health risks would rather discuss anything else). In my case, I believe that it’s finally time to allow (and thus cite) this part of my life as a legitimate contributing factor in the choices we’ve made for our family. I’m back in school and CHD has helped lead me here, so it follows that the Students with Heart Foundation might play a role in my success. I thank you for your consideration.

Follow up (10/10/14):

Dear Mr. Rolinski,

We are unfortunately writing to inform you that you were not selected for this year’s round of scholarships. This year we had an unprecedented amount of applications submitted, and unfortunately, we do not have the money to grant awards to every applicant, no matter how much we want to. Your story is certainly an amazing one and we strongly encourage you to apply again next year.


Students with Heart Foundation

Follow up (10/16/14): Here’s another iron in the fire along the same lines. This letter is addressed to a family scholarship foundation which I will not name, in order to allow them to control their own message.


My name is Nick Rolinski and with the support of my wife, Mary, I am pursuing a Master’s Degree in Architecture at the University of Notre Dame. I’m writing the _____ Foundation today in an effort to explore opportunities for collaboration which might jointly serve the mission of the Foundation and my goals as an architecture student.

I discovered the _____ Foundation while conducting research on scholarships for students with Congenital Heart Disease, because I myself was born with two related conditions which have introduced both challenges and blessings, and informed my approach to life-long learning and stewardship today.

I was particularly drawn to the _____ Foundation for two reasons. The first reason was the story of _____. Although I cannot understand the profound sorrow which accompanies the loss of a newborn son, I believe I can respectfully share in your grief as a new parent (we are blessed with a 7-month-old baby girl, Emaline Olive). Moreover, I can relate to the desire to forge a positive impact in honor of a child, in an effort to heal, remember, and express a lasting parental love. Please know that in your case, this love reads very clearly.

Secondly, I am interested in the Foundation’s connection to the City of Cincinnati. As an alumnus of the University of Dayton School of Engineering, I was able to work for one summer in the City. I grew enchanted with the local 19th-century urban planning and architecture. Now as a graduate student, it is my goal to engage in architectural research focused on a Cincinnati topic. Specifically, I am interested in the Italianate and Victorian blocks around Over-The-Rhine and similar areas, the City’s many antique fire houses, urban blight and renewal, environmental safety in low-income areas (with issues such as lead-based paint, industrial contamination, etc.), walkability, sustainability, preservation, reuse, and architecture in the classroom.

The _____ Foundation Scholarship appears to be designed for students from within the I-275 Loop, which is evidence of the Foundation’s desire to make a positive difference within the Cincinnati Community. This requirement would eliminate me from consideration, since I’m from Michigan. However, I believe that if a “grant” were to be awarded for a proposed Cincinnati-related architecture project, the desires of the Foundation may still be met. A project, which could be designed with both academic and stewardship deliverables, might include research, site visits, analysis, problem solving, publication, original drawings, and more. This could be thought of as graduate research funding in lieu of the traditional scholarship.

In order to formally petition for such a grant, I would furnish a project proposal, endorsed by the Notre Dame School of Architecture, with listed intellectual inquiries to inform the project scope, itemized costs (such as travel costs for site visits, materials, etc.), deliverables, and timing. One example of a funding structure, consistent with my prior experiences in graduate school, might award $2,000 towards a project budget and $2,000 to be paid directly to Notre Dame towards my tuition. I would also be open to seeking matching funds from my school, or other private foundations. Additionally, I’d be very interested in partnering with an enthusiastic researcher (either a student, faculty member, or both) at the University of Cincinnati School of Architecture and Interior Design. To that end, any local connections that may be available would be greatly appreciated! Most importantly, all publication, whether through a conference, periodical, or otherwise, would acknowledge the Foundation’s role in the project, thus honoring its cause.

It’s critical for me to leverage every fundraising opportunity available as I pursue this academic experience. My program is full-time (with room for passion-driven research, of course) and will take three years. As a 27-year old father and husband, I am first tasked with providing for my family along the way. My options are to tap into savings, scholarships already awarded, private scholarships and grants, and creative, out-of-the-box fundraising, like what I’ve outlined in this letter. I’m interested in sharing more of my story with the _____ Family, and perhaps discussing ways we can work together to honor _____ through a constructive academic research project.

I sincerely thank you for your consideration, and would greatly appreciate the opportunity to discuss my ideas over the phone, or in person! I’ve attached several documents which are listed below[1], to provide a comprehensive and contextual picture of my mission as a husband, father, and student.


Nicholas Rolinski

M.Arch Candidate

University of Notre Dame ‘17

Author: Nick Rolinski

#Architecture #Urbanism

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