Arbor Creek Scholarship helps MSU Texas grad student

Sri Lankan student recipient of rent-free apartment for one year

Arbor Creek Scholarship helps MSU Texas grad student

Shenella Karunaratne was only 16 when she came to Midwestern State University from her home of Sri Lanka, and she had to figure out how to be independent in a hurry. Since arriving here in 2015, she had lived at one apartment complex, but the rent kept going up. With COVID causing limitations on how much her parents could help, she was at a point where she didn’t know what she would do next. Then she learned she was the recipient of the Arbor Creek Scholarship.

“This couldn’t have happened at a better time,” Shenella said.

The Arbor Creek scholarship provides an MSU Texas graduate student a one-bedroom apartment rent-free for one year, a value of approximately $7,500, at the Arbor Creek Apartments. In 2009, Arbor Creek management personnel realized how overwhelming the financial consequences could be when a college graduate decides to pursue an advanced degree. They stepped in to help, according to Arbor Creek manager Kathie Tant. Since then, the scholarship has provided 13 students with a place to live without the burden of rent.

Tant gives credit to all the Arbor Creek staff for supporting and maintaining the scholarship. “We love doing this,” she said.

Dr. Kathryn Zuckweiler, Dean of the Dr. Billie Doris McAda Graduate School, said that MSU Texas is fortunate to have partnerships with community businesses such as Arbor Creek that recognize and foster academic success. “This is a huge benefit because it helps make earning a graduate degree more affordable, and in some cases, is life-changing for the recipient,” Zuckweiler said.

Being an international student, employment is limited for Shenella, so she juggles a job in the graduate admission office with teaching a general psychology course, an internship at the Veterans Affairs clinic, and working on her thesis. “Getting the scholarship relieves so much of the stress of keeping up with obligations,” Shenella said.

Shenella had been fascinated by the study of psychology since she was a child. “There’s not a lot of mental health awareness in Sri Lanka. I would see people suffering, but there was no one to help them,” she said. The more she thought about it as she grew, the more obsessed she became with helping people.

She came to MSU Texas because her older brother attended here, but both were independent people and made their own lives. It was a challenge being 16 and on the other side of the world from her family, while learning to be independent, and Shenella said she didn’t do well her first semester. 

Shenella celebrates her graduation
Shenella Karunaratne earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2018 and will earn her master’s in psychology in May 2022.


But she made friends, learned to manage finances, and had professors such as David Carlston, Paul Guthrie, and Michael Vandehey, who were good to refer her to resources that helped her get through issues, whether it was separation from family or visa complications.

“Shenella is a very focused student who knew what she wanted and directed her energy toward achieving her goals,” Vandehey said. “As an international student, she has had to deal with separation from family, the pandemic and travel restrictions, which affected seeing family during breaks, and yet has maintained her professionalism. We are very proud to have her in our department and as one of our future graduates.”

She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2018 and will earn her master’s in psychology in May 2022. In her application essay for the Arbor Creek Scholarship, she states that not only will the scholarship help with financial struggles, but it will let her focus on her goal of being accepted into a Ph.D. program, one that will allow her to represent MSU Texas in the world of academia. After earning a doctorate, she plans on returning home and becoming an advocate for mental health awareness. She will miss MSU Texas. “Everyone is so nice and laid back,” she said.

In the meantime, Shenella will enjoy the proximity to campus, safety, and accessibility that Arbor Creek provides. “Arbor Creek Apartments has always been a place I could have only idealized as a home,” Shenella wrote in her application essay.

Zuckweiler said she knows Shenella will make the most of this opportunity. “I'm extremely grateful to Kathie Tant and Haley Residential for their generous support of Midwestern State University, the McAda Graduate School, and our students."