Meet Theo Russell
Pennsylvania student steps across the border to attend Kent State and discovers a world of difference.
When Theodore Russell was deciding where to attend college in 2014, the Pennsylvania native applied to many schools, but not Kent State University.
"I was applying to many different schools, and my priorities then were way different," the senior public health major explained.
It was Russell’s mother, Jeanine Russell Vannucci, a Kent State alumna, who took it upon herself to fill out a Kent State application for her son.
For Russell, the old adage "mother knows best" proved true.
Not only did Kent State turn out to be the best deal financially, but Russell has been overwhelmed by his educational experience and the opportunities for personal and professional growth.
"I have been extremely pleased. I was unwise not to apply here my first time," he says.
Russell, 22, says he felt that going to a more prestigious or expensive school would mean a better education, but he discovered the quality of the professors and classes at Kent State to be "just as great, just as professional, just as awesome."
"I think I have had more opportunity here than I would have at other schools," he says.
I think I have had more opportunity here than I would have at other schools.
As a senior at Greensburg Salem High School in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, a southeast suburb of Pittsburgh, Russell says he heard nothing about Kent State from his guidance counselors. They pushed the University of Pittsburgh or Duquesne University or even suggested vocational programs, he says.
If not for his mother’s Kent State connection, Russell says he would have likely overlooked the university.
"She knew I was not being wise applying for all expensive schools, even if I could get in," he says.
Russell was accepted by every school he applied to: University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, The Ohio State University, The University of Akron, George Mason University, The George Washington University, Regent University and Kent State University.
Then he set out to visit them all.
The travel wasn’t too difficult because his mother, who earned her architecture degree from Kent State in 1991, works for Gabe’s stores.
"My mom travels a lot for work, and there’s always a Gabe’s store near colleges, so we combined those trips," Russell says.
After visiting all eight campuses, Kent State became the clear choice, Russell explains.
Some schools, including Ohio State and George Mason, were just too expensive when compared to Russell’s college savings. Others, including George Washington and Regent, didn’t seem to warrant going so far from home.
"There was nothing so special about them, particularly since I hadn’t chosen a major yet," he says.
The University of Akron didn’t seem "academic" enough for Russell. He visited a week before finals, and left with the impression that there was more partying going on than studying.
"It seemed like a fun hangout place," Russell says, "But I’m not going to school to have fun and hang out."
Kent State, Russell says, felt just right.
The Kent Campus felt much more academically focused, while still offering an active student life. "I felt I could get a quality education and also enjoy living here, too," he says.
With his choices narrowed to Kent State and Pitt, Russell looked at the bottom line.
He could live at home, attend Pitt, and pay more than he would attending Kent State and having the experience of going away to college to stretch his wings, even though he is just two hours from home.
"Pennsylvania schools have extremely high in-state tuition," Russell says, "I’m actually paying less to go out-of-state."
Pennsylvania schools have extremely high in-state tuition. I’m actually paying less to go out-of-state.
He also benefited from some tuition reduction for being the child of an alumna and for having good grades in high school.
Russell credits his advisers at Kent State for suggesting public health as a major. He was interested in biology, language and culture, and discovered that they all come together in public health. The university helped him to secure an internship at the World Federation of Public Health Associations, in Geneva, Switzerland, where he studied global health, attended World Health Organization meetings, and met ambassadors from various foreign countries. After his freshman year, he took part in a trip to El Salvador with staff from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Such experiences and opportunities, Russell says, are easy to find and are available to all students. "Kent State does a great job of helping students actually find those (experiences) early in your education," Russell says.
"I am so satisfied with my choice of Kent State," he says.
So satisfied, in fact, that when he graduates with his bachelor’s degree in May 2018, Russell will be staying to study for his master’s degree in epidemiology.
"I’m staying here because I am so unbelievably impressed and happy with my undergraduate education in the College of Public Health," he says. "I would love to be an epidemiologist for Doctors Without Borders. That would be a mountaintop in my career."