10 years and 5 kids later, Josip Belavic went back to school

February 13, 2020

The Lewis-Clark State College student is the recipient of an annual financial education scholarship from U.S. Bank.

Josip Belavic felt stuck at the glue factory. 

As he approached his 30th birthday, Belavic was six years settled into a role working the night shift at an adhesive manufacturing firm – quite literally, making glue. Although he didn’t mind the work and built friendships with those around him, he began to realize that opportunities to advance his career were limited. 

“At the company, we would talk a lot about moving up,” said Belavic, who often goes by ‘Sip. “But every time I applied, it felt like I was lacking this or that to get the promotion.”

As a married father of five kids ranging from 8 years old to 6 months old, Belavic started to feel an urgency to advance his career to provide the type of lifestyle he wanted for his family. 

So, Belavic decided to restart his college career full time. He reached out to colleges in the region, asking what he could do with the grab bag of course credits collected during time at a community college following high school.

He was soon contacted by an academic counselor from Lewis-Clark State College, which is in Lewiston, Idaho. Enrolling in the college of 4,000 students would mean moving several hours away from home in eastern Oregon, but it felt right to Belavic – in part because Lewiston reminded him of the small river village where he grew up in Croatia before moving to the United States at 8 years old.

With that, the family sold their home, packed up a U-Haul and drove to new student orientation.

“I decided to put all my chips on the table,” Belavic said of the decision.

He is betting on himself and an undergraduate biology program that puts him on the path toward pharmacy school. He credits his time at the adhesive manufacturing firm as inspiring that choice (“I started considering how glue is actually made,” he laughed) as well as giving him the maturity to recommit to education.

Although Belavic is a few years of textbooks and tests away from his bet paying off financially, he recently won a hand. He is the latest recipient of a $20,000 financial education scholarship at U.S. Bank. 

Through the annual sweepstakes program, which has provided more than $500,000 in scholarships over two decades, students can take a series of online personal finance lessons covering student loans, credit scores and more. Ninety-eight percent of students surveyed have said that the lessons made them more confident in their finances.

“[The lessons] are useful,” said Belavic, “especially when it comes to managing debt and understanding what you’re taking on and how you’re paying for it.”

With five kids, college isn’t the only thing Belavic is paying for. Cash gained from selling their home is barely covering living expenses, so Belavic has been using subsidized federal student loans for tuition. That’ll change for his three remaining semesters, with the U.S. Bank scholarship taking their place. 

Above all else, Belavic said, the scholarship brings peace of mind and removes the lingering consideration of getting a part time job. Now, he’s able to focus on his studies and his family. When he’s not studying, the outdoor enthusiast enjoys spending weekends hiking, fishing or picking huckleberries with the kids. 

He recognizes this isn’t exactly the typical weekend for a college student. But the 30-year-old also recognizes that he feels more like a college student today than he did as an 18-year-old. 

“Some people aren’t ready for college right after high school; I mean, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I was younger,” he said. “Now, I am ready to stick to it.”

Sticking to it, you could say, has come with age for this former gluemaker.

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