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Freshman embraces her passion, thanks in part to ASU gifts

Olivia Besthoff
August 26, 2015

Olivia Besthoff has been in and out of hospitals her entire life, so it makes some sense that she wants a career in the health-care industry.

“I was hospitalized at 8 years old and was eventually diagnosed with Crohn’s disease,” said Besthoff, a Gilbert (Arizona) High School graduate who is enrolled in ASU’s College of Nursing and Health Innovation. “I never found the hospital to be a scary place. I’d always ask questions, and the nurses explained everything so thoroughly to me. Or they’d bring a blanket or teddy bear to comfort me. I want to give that same comfort to others.”

Besthoff will get that opportunity, in part thanks to the Kaibab Industries Scholarship Fund, which was established by the corporate entity to provide financial assistance to incoming freshmen on the basis of academic merit and financial need.

Besthoff is one of more than 8,000 Arizona State University students that benefit from private support scholarships. Scholarships, along with donations that support faculty recruitment, student programs, research, community outreach and other initiatives contributed a record fundraising year for ASU. More than 100,000 individuals, corporations and foundations committed $207 million to ASU in the 2015 fiscal year. That money is a 41 percent increase over last year’s total.

The contributions help students like Besthoff achieve their academic dreams, but Besthoff put in enough hard work to create her own opportunities. She also had a great role model in her sister Erika, an ASU graduate.

“Erika is five years older than me and is vision-impaired. She was very focused and driven and got straight A’s in high school,” Besthoff said. “I always looked up to her and wanted to be like her.”

Easier said than done. Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract, would often flare up during moments of stress and sideline Besthoff, putting her back into the hospital at various times in her life.

“Crohn’s is a physical ailment, but it’s also a mind game,” Besthoff said. “My stomach would inflame whenever I’d have to take a test or during moments of stress in my life. It’s just something I had to deal with in order to get through.”

Besthoff not only persevered, she overachieved in almost every aspect of her life. She achieved a 4.1 GPA, qualifying her as a member of the National Honor Society. She served as a teacher’s aid and peer leader in the Gilbert High School Counseling Office. And she was the lead color guard captain for the Gilbert High School Marching Band — even voted as the band’s most valuable performer from 2013-2015.

“Olivia impresses me with her ability to overcome great adversity in that she has Crohn’s disease,” said Christopher Mack, who runs Gilbert High’s guidance department and mentored Besthoff as a peer counselor.

“While some in her situation may use this as an excuse for doing less, Olivia continues to challenge herself by taking on many different activities. Olivia wants people to know that her illness does not define her, and that she will continue striving to make a positive impact in the world.”

Her long-term goal is to be a physician’s assistant and work in surgery or emergency-room care. It’s why she has spent the past two summers as a volunteer at Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center in the telemetry unit, assisting nurses with patients and other hospital duties.

Despite witnessing some pretty traumatic experiences in other people’s lives — including car accidents, heart attacks and watching a nurse dress an amputated leg — Besthoff says she knows she has picked the right profession to study.

“I didn’t want to go through college and then change my mind after I got a taste of what happens in an emergency room,” Besthoff said. “I am definitely set on a career in nursing.”