Sophomore rower and Dr. Pepper Tuition winner Synene Maria Abukaram won a $100,000 scholarship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Dec. 4 during the halftime show of the Michigan vs. Iowa B1G Ten Championship game. Abukaram was a walk-on coxswain for the 2020-21 women’s rowing squad at Eastern Michigan, and is now in her second year with the rowing team. She is majoring in Combined Athletic Training and is originally from Sylvania, Ohio.
“This money is going to help me pay off my student loans and help with the stress of my family,“ Abukaram said.
This was the first year Dr. Pepper hosted their college tuition competition on TikTok. In order to be entered, participants had to make a submission video about why they should be selected to participate in the competition and use the hashtag “#ideservetuition”.
Abukaram posted a video about herself and the inspiring women in her life, such as her mother and grandmothers. In the video, she also talked about how she is the oldest of five siblings and aspires to become an athletic trainer for the Indianapolis Colts, her favorite NFL team. After posting her video, it went viral and she was chosen as a finalist for the competition.
“As a finalist, I also got to meet with Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford who shared insight on how to not get overwhelmed by the crowd and tips for practicing the toss beforehand,” Abukaram said.
Abukaram mentioned there was a preliminary throw to decide who would go to the finals. The morning of the game, each contestant drew a number to see who would go first in the preliminary round. She drew second out of the three contestants, which is exactly what she wanted. This gave her an advantage to know what the first person scored, so she knew she had to beat that score.
Abukaram’s family friend, as well as her teammates, helped her practice for this event. Being a coxswain on the rowing team also helped her prepare. Abukaram has quite the history in sports. She attended The Bounty Collegium before enrolling at EMU, where she lettered in cross country, soccer, and track. Being athletic contributed to Abukaram’s success in the half-time football target throwing competition. She is also interested in studying abroad and is a coach and referee for youth soccer teams.
Abukaram was feeling very nervous going into the final challenge at the B1G Ten championship game.
“I was a ball of nerves at first, but I saw my mom being her outgoing self, yelling, “We got some Dr Pepper contestants over here!” With that, I decided to myself – “yeah, I’m going to have fun with this and just enjoy the game.”,’ Abukaram said. “Before we went on the field, I knew that if I did lose, I was still going to be walking away with $20,000, so really, I won in some way. With that in mind, I decided to just bask in the glory of it all – being on TV, the crowd cheering, and just being part of the experience,”.
Abukaram was super excited after winning the whole competition in front of 67,183 fans, the most to ever attend a B1G Ten championship game in history.
“I felt really excited, I know how this tuition money can help myself and my family. Just being a part of the experience was really cool! Winning this and being a part of Dr. Pepper is opening new opportunities for me,” Abukaram mentioned.