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Like many college freshmen, Victoria Bauder was second-thinking her major. For one thing, her fellow music majors came to Kutztown University way ahead of her in everything from theory to performance. For another, she just wasn’t happy.

“I was getting tired of it,” she says of the music curriculum and time spent practicing something she no longer enjoyed. “I realized I was looking more forward to my required English classes.”

Not quite sure how to handle this realization, Vicki started to flounder. Her grades plummeted, and she was at sea by the end of her first semester sophomore year. It was then that Judy Tierney, who had recently learned of the situation after Vicki’s mentor became unavailable, quickly put together a plan she was pretty sure would get the Allentown native back on track.

Judy and her BEST co-founder Billy Staples drove to Kutztown’s historic Old Main building, where they sat with Vicki and shared a no-holds-barred conversation that got real, real fast. She had her very own crash course on the history of BEST and how it was designed to lift up students just like her – provided she buckled down.

“You need to do better,” they told her that November 2011 evening. “You can do better. We know you as a person and you can do this.”

“Billy and Judy told me about the first few students they helped and how they turned out,” Vicki says. “When they explained everything to me that night, I was like ‘Oh, wow! I can do this.’ After that talk, I picked myself back up.”

She switched majors to Secondary Education and English, then dropped the Education part and never looked back.

“School was still kind of hard, but once I got into the English program, things started to click,” Vicki says. “Judy and I would meet more frequently, especially when I was on breaks. We’d get pizza and talk; we just have a really good connection. I love Judy and think she’s great.”

Each time Victoria returned to BEST, grades in hand, she proved the confidence Judy and Billy had in her was well-placed. “That first semester after ‘The Billy Treatment,’ Billy looked at my grades and said, ‘I see you’ve made a change,’” she recalls.

Indeed, Victoria Bauder has mastered change. Her father’s chronic back pain affected his ability to work, so they moved frequently when she was younger. It’s been just the two of them since her mother died of cancer when Vicki was 9. (Her funeral was the third of 22 Vicki has attended in her 22 years.)

“My dad tells me I grew up when I was 9 years old,” Vicki says. “It was difficult, but it’s life. It happens.”

This fortitude served Vicki well during her college career, and she says she’d like to share her experiences one day as a BEST mentor. For now, however, she is content to attend the annual golf tournament, reception and other fundraisers when her schedule allows. And she participates in a new program that helps graduates with writing resumes, dressing professionally, networking and preparing for job interviews.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done if Judy and Billy hadn’t come that one evening and talked to me,” she says. “My dad didn’t want me to give up, but sometimes you need to hear that from different people. I wanted to keep going, but I needed a little push. I wanted to prove to Billy and Judy that I could do it. I made a commitment when I joined BEST, and I wanted to keep it.”

Her commitment to education hasn’t stopped either. Now that she has her bachelor’s degree in English, she hopes to continue school and one day become a college professor or get paid to research literary artifacts such as first edition books or stories that are later authenticated.

“The day I graduated from Kutztown, when I got down from the stage, my dad said, ‘You know, your mom would really be proud of you.’ He gave me a hug, and I started to cry. It hit me then. Neither of my parents graduated college. It was a lot to take in, and I’m proud of it. And I’m very grateful to Judy and Billy for helping me get there.”

"The day I graduated from Kutztown, when I got down from the stage, my dad said, "You know, your mom would be really proud of you."

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