UWSP student wins $100,000 scholarship from Dr. Pepper
Paying for college can take years. Sometimes decades. But sometimes, life hands out a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pay it all off in just 30 seconds. Or rather, Dr. Pepper hands out a chance, as it did for University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) junior Alec Cannata Saturday, Dec. 5.
Cannata won a $100,000 scholarship at Dr. Pepper’s Tuition Giveaway during the Big Ten Championship game in Indianapolis. Cannata won the final round of the giveaway by throwing 11 footballs five yards into a Dr. Pepper barrel in 30 seconds during the halftime show. He beat his opponent by five footballs, sealing his win and securing his academic future.
“Second quarter they brought us down to the field, and that is when everything kind of went crazy. I was super nervous,” Cannata said. “I just took a deep breath and said ‘I’ve gotta do it.’
“I did look over (at his opponent) and I was winning 10 to three. That was kind of when I lost all control. I lost my ability to throw because I realized and I was like, ‘holy cow. I’ve got a lead.’ I tried to continue to throw and I was throwing really fast but it was crazy.”
Cannata was one of 90,000 students who entered Dr. Pepper’s giveaway last September. The first round required the contestants to create a brief profile and obtain 50 votes. For the second round students had to create a one-minute video, telling their story and explaining why they deserved to win the giveaway. More than 800 contestants submitted videos, of which Dr. Pepper selected 16.
“They called me four weeks later and chose me as one of the final 16,” Cannata said. “I didn’t believe it until I got to Indianapolis. When I got to the airport with the ticket in my hand, I was like, ‘This must not be joke. If it’s a joke they’re doing a really good job.’”
The work was not done once Cannata realized he had been selected. Knowing the final step would depend on his throwing abilities, he and his roommates measured their kitchen and set up a practice area with the same dimensions the contest would have at Lucas Oil Stadium. UWSP football coach Tom Journal loaned Cannata footballs to practice with.
“My roommates made me practice like an hour a day,” Cannata said. “It helped me get my form down and everything, but it didn’t prepare me for how nervous I was going to be. I didn’t necessarily overcome it, I just had to play through it. Nothing could prepare me for being out in front of 67,000 people, that was unbelievable. And knowing it was broadcast to 15 million.”
With three semesters to go in school, Cannata plans to finish his wildland fire science degree and head into a wildland firefighter career.
“I kind of want to stick with my plan that I had before I got the scholarship money,” Cannata said. “I don’t necessarily want the money to change my plan because if I go to more schooling then I am possibly going to have more debt and I might be in the same situation.
“No matter what, I know I want to fight fires, and I can do that with the major I have now. I think I want to stick with my route. Whatever is left over, I am still not 100-percent positive what’s going to happen with it, but I could always gift it to my sister, through the scholarship program.”
Cannata said he intends to finish his degree at UWSP.
“UWSP is one of the best natural resources schools, if not the best, in the country. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else,” Cannata said. “If down the road after firefighting I decide to go back to school this opens up possibilities for that, but as for right now, Stevens Point is the one and I am proud to be here.”
Cannata will continue to work part-time to pay the bills through school, as the scholarship is educational only.
“I would love to thank Dr. Pepper. They believe in what we want to do, and they really stopped at nothing to help us, and I really appreciate that,” Cannata said. “I don’t necessarily think that natural resources gets the publicity that they deserve. A lot of people don’t think that they matter so for someone to really look at what I want to do and say ‘that’s cool and we want to support you,’ that really meant a lot. Whether I won or not, I really appreciate that they looked at what I wanted to do as something important.”