Two Rivers High School Senior Arina Axinia Secures Full-Ride Scholarship to University of Pennsylvania

Published January 2024

Arina Axinia, a Two Rivers High School senior, has been awarded a full-ride, four-year scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania through the QuestBridge National College Match program, which connects high-achieving high school seniors with scholarships to top colleges. Arina is one of only around 2,000 students in the U.S. to receive a full four-year scholarship through the 2023 QuestBridge National College Match program.

Scroll down to read Arina's story.

Beginning with a Learning Curve
Arina began her educational journey with School District 197 in kindergarten at Mendota Elementary after immigrating from Romania with her parents.

“I remember the first day of school going to kindergarten,” Arina shared. “My parents taught me two phrases in English; they had faith in me that I would learn the rest.” 

With the help of her teachers, she learned both English and the classroom curriculum that all the other students were learning. Arina believes the personalized learning and caring staff helped her quickly learn the language and grow and thrive in other ways. “They never let my language barriers be a burden,” Arina shared. “With the help of Ms. Cook at Mendota, I went from a struggling ESL (English as a Second Language) student to catching up with my peers in schoolwork, to eventually becoming a part of the gifted and talented program at the school.”

Now a senior at Two Rivers High School, Arina continues to thrive. Beyond excelling academically, she is involved in Speech and Debate, Link Crew, Digital Wellbeing Club, National Honor Society, Editor-in-Chief for the Yearbook, and serves on the Superintendent Student Advisory Committee. She currently has the most Speech and Debate Honor points in the school, is a National Speech & Debate Association Academic All-American, and has placed at the national tournament for Speech, among other accomplishments. 

Outside of school, Arina volunteers for Living Well Disability Services, a non-profit organization that provides long-term care and services for people with intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities. Over the last four years, she has volunteered more than 300 hours preparing and delivering meals for the Living Well residents and helping plan activities for them. “Being able to give back is important to me,” Arina shared. “Whatever small effort I’m putting in will make a worker’s day a little bit easier and can make the individuals’ day brighter and better.” 

They Always Knew I Could Do This
Growing up, Arina always knew some sort of college experience would be in her future. “My parents left Romania and started completely over, just for a chance for me to have a better future,” Arina shared. “My dad learned English at the age of 35, and so did my mom. My parents made a lot of sacrifices so I can be here today. They just wanted me to go to college—they had no expectations beyond that. They always knew I could do this.” 

Arina applied for the QuestBridge scholarship at the recommendation of Speech and Debate Coach Ben Geiger. “QuestBridge is a highly competitive program that is looking for students that truly have a need and the aptitude to be successful in rigorous post-secondary institutions,” shared Ben. “In 10 years of working with QuestBridge while teaching in Arizona and Minnesota, Arina is the second student I know who has been selected.”

Out of over 20,800 applicants, QuestBridge selected 6,683 finalists to be considered for the scholarship and matched 2,242 finalists with partner colleges. The scholarship includes the full cost of attendance—including tuition, housing and food, books and supplies, and travel expenses. Arina was matched with the University of Pennsylvania and will head there in the fall of 2024. 

"Arina has faced many challenges in her life, but she simply does not make excuses and finds a way to thrive,” shared Ben. “With all her activities and rigorous courses, she manages her schedule and gets it all done. She has become an exceptional leader as well.”

Arina received the exciting news that she matched on the day of the State Debate Tournament—right before she was scheduled to compete. “The notification popped up on my phone that read ‘Congratulations.’ My parents were working in the concession stand at the tournament, and I ran to find them and share the good news,” Arina shared. “My mom started crying. We were all so happy, but they believed in me the whole time and knew I could do this.”

I Just Want to Help People
Arina credits her success at Two Rivers to the staff, challenging curriculum, and supportive community. Specifically, she attributes her experience with the Speech and Debate team and Coach Ben Geiger as having a significant role. “Speech and Debate has pushed me out of my shell and encouraged my creativity,” Arina shared. “Coach Geiger was one of the people who saw me in middle school and encouraged me to join. Once I got involved, it became my life. He’s pushed me far because he knows I can achieve more. I’m glad he’s always been there to support me.”

Janelle Christensen, Two Rivers Language Arts teacher and Yearbook Advisor, has also influenced Arina’s high school experience. “I’ve taken Yearbook for three years,” Arina shared. “Ms. Christensen saw my potential early on and gave me extra projects to push me. She has given me opportunities to write outside of Yearbook, like being published in the Star Tribune. She pushes me creatively and encourages me.”  

At the University of Pennsylvania, Arina plans to study cognitive science.

“I have a strong passion for psychology and neuroscience,” Arina shared. “I find it fascinating how one event in childhood can shape and impact your brain.” Career-wise, she’s hoping to be a pediatric neuropsychologist who works in hospitals. “I’m hoping to bring new therapies to certain neurological conditions. I just want to help people. It brings me a sense of fulfillment when I brighten someone’s day, to make their life a little easier.”

Congratulations, Arina! We wish you the best and look forward to watching you grow in your post-secondary education and career!