Sophia Burk Continues to Pave Her Way to a Bright Future
Sophia Burk is done with her first semester at Rochester Community and Technical College. She’s just as normal as any other student on campus, heading to class with her black and blue hair and lounging clothes for lecture. But she’s also a warrior — having toppled a difficult past filled with abuse, addiction, and depression to earn a scholarship, set academic goals, and discover a dogged determination to live her life on her terms. Her story for the 2016 Beat The Odds Scholarship resonated so deeply with people, that she was featured in a documentary airing on select Minnesota PBS stations.
On a chilly, lazy Wednesday morning, Burk is eager to chat, having finished her sole class of the day.
Studying with an aim to work in the psychology field, she hopes to either be a social worker, work in a hospital with kids, or become a school counselor and “talk to girls about their drama. Anything that helps people.”
“I wanted to go through courses first to see where I want to go with it,” Burk explains. She also took Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) classes while in high school to earn college credits.
Her path to college began before PSEO, when she chose to ask for help — and people eagerly gave it. In 2015, while thriving thanks to her support group, she received a request from her high school principal.
Twin Cities PBS had heard about her story through the Beat The Odds Scholarship Program, and thought it would make for a great addition to the “Back on Track: Journeys to a High School Degree” video.
She was hesitant at first, but laughs about it now when she remembers how her principal convinced her to do it.
“They (PBS) got in touch with my principal and asked if they could interview me… at first I was, no way, no way!” Burk recalls. “But my principal was just like, ‘no, you’re going to do it; you got this.”
The PBS video team followed her around for an entire day last year.
“It was really awkward because I’ve gone my whole life with all these problems, no one really knowing except for close staff, friends, and family,” Burk says. “And now a bunch of people know and it’s on TV. It was really weird; it was really uncomfortable. But at the same time, it is really nice to be able to show people you can go through so much and still be OK.”
She lets out a huge laugh.
“I mean (she pauses for a few seconds), I felt OK about it; it was just weird, you know? Seeing that, and having all these people hear about it, and a lot of people were like, ‘Oh, great job.’ That’s great, but a lot of people are like, ‘I know you from that video,’ and I’m like, ‘yeah,’ (she says in an embarrassed tone followed by a laugh).”
People recognize her in class and sometimes around campus. In spite of it all, it’s been a positive experience.
For her, the focus is not on the video, but what led to it: asking for help when she needed it.
When asked what someone in a similar situation as her back then should do, Burk is not sure how to answer at first. She thinks a minute.
“When you’re at your lowest and you feel like you have nothing left and you feel like you have nobody to talk to, that’s when you really should seek out — when you need to find someone to help you help yourself so they can get you out of that rut,” she says. “It needs to get so much worse before it can get better. I know that’s what everyone says, but it’s so true, and it’s annoying how true it is,” she laughs.
“You can only imagine how low someone can get kicked down, but it’s amazing once you get out of that — a whole new world.”
As for RCTC classes and campus life, she likes seeing many of the same faces in what feels like a tightly-knit community.
“It’s nice and homey,” Burk says. “It’s kind of relaxing. The days I don’t have class I can come to campus and relax, do homework. It’s really nice.”
Looking back, all of the positive people in her life, PSEO, and the scholarship played a part in Burk’s current fortunes.
“It’s made me more appreciative of everything,” she begins. “I never really thought I was going to make it to go to college. And doing the PSEO program made me get motivated. Getting the scholarship was like, ‘alright, I’m doing this!’ It was little extra kick, almost like a sign that I had to go. I’m really, really grateful — especially for the community and staff that’s helped get me here.
“I definitely did not do it by myself,” she laughs.
With such a varied background and indomitable will, Burk is surely going to be a champion for those who — often quietly — face hardships, reminding them they’re never alone.