Diamonique’s Big and Bold Dreams

I got pregnant when I was in my sophomore year of high school and never went back for my junior year. When I had my daughter in September of 2009, I did not have any support in figuring out how to navigate an educational path that suited my needs. I tried a high school completion program at a local college and I failed. I didn’t realize it then, but I didn’t have a support system or the resources I needed to be successful. I dropped out again. My family was unstable for years. My mom had been on and off abusing drugs and was not able to take care of me and my siblings properly.

No one really blinked in my direction when I dropped out of high school or failed at the high school completion program.
I was kicked out of my family home and experienced homelessness for a short period of time which was a great source of stress for me that caused my educational endeavors to suffer more.

After stabilizing my living situation, I got connected with Seattle Education Access when I was 19. My Education Advocate, Anthon, helped me through determining school options that worked out best for me and my lifestyle. I decided to pursue a GED and finished all the tests within a month. Next, I got help getting enrolled at North Seattle College and began working on my Associate’s degree. I’ve been in school since then. SEA helped me start my educational path. I got support with tutoring to prepare for my GED, practice books, and really individualized help that focused on my needs. SEA helped me to actualize my educational goals.

I have experienced feeling like I do not belong in institutions of higher learning throughout this entire journey. I have had to learn to make space for myself and people who identify similarly to me (black, woman, first-generation college student, low-income, and parent). I have felt insignificant and not as smart compared to my peers at times.

I really don’t think I would have made it this far with my education if I wasn’t given the tools to advocate for myself, make important connections, and get the support I needed to become successful in my education by my own definition. SEA helped me gain confidence and realize that pursuing education takes more than just being smart or intelligent. It’s difficult to get through higher education alone and no one who needs extra support should have to. Almost 7 years later, I have an A.A., a B.A. in psychology, and I am now in my second year of a PhD program in Quantitative Methods in Education through the Educational Psychology department at University of Minnesota.

My daughter is a perpetual source of inspiration to me. I think my interest in education and learning has sparked something beautiful in her. I am seriously always surprised by her and motivated to keep learning so that she can see someone who has taken a path less traveled (corny, I know). She talks about going to grad school, being a mathematician or an engineer.  I think it’s showing her that she can have dreams that are big, bold, and  difficult, and still reach them. 

-Diamonique

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“I will one day see my name on the silver screen.”

My name is Jojo Ardon. My pronouns are they/them, I am 18 years old, and I live in Federal Way, Washington. I live with my mother, father, and younger brother; who is 7 years old. I love him with my whole heart. My motivation to work hard comes from giving him a good role model.

School has always been a word that made me fall into despair; the place that made me break down in tears when I would step into the shower at night after 4+ hours of homework. It wasn’t always like this. September 2005 you would have seen a happy small child, shyly hiding beside their mother as they stood in line with other small colorful children, tugging on the straps of their pink Barbie backpack that was much too big. Kindergarten was the glimpse into what was to come in my school life; within the first month I began getting bullied by a much older student, 4th or 5th grade, constantly being shoved and screamed at by this person made me quickly hate waking up in the morning, they also made me hate my favourite denim Minnie Mouse bucket hat, which I had worn everyday it was possible. And although I would later get pushed off the monkey bars and have my eyebrow split, and I would get in trouble for biting a student that had me in a choke hold. Kindergarten was the ‘easy’ part.

When elementary school time was up I went to Highline CHOICE Academy, a school I was so looking forward to going to; I had a few close acquaintances from elementary attending as well, it looked to be as if everything would be okay.

CHOICE Academy is known for preparing you for your future education and career, it’s also known for the good socialization between all it’s students. When I started going to CHOICE in 2012, my 7th grade class had a little under 25 students, everyone kind of knew each other. Also since the school as a whole was fairly cramped you would often see the 7th graders chatting with the 11th graders. I will admit, middle school at CHOICE wasn’t that bad, I remember a few moments being genuinely fun, and I am thankful for those. I was always a good student, I enjoyed learning, no matter how much I would complain to my mother about it, I loved, and still love, writing essays, reading, learning about history, and so much more; so it was easy to throw myself into my school work when I realized I didn’t have any friends, not really, I had people I would hang out with and joke around with, but that was it. When I came to the realization of this it kick-started my anxiety, but I wasn’t desperate to find someone, I was alright, or at least I tried to be; I thought I couldn’t do any better than the people I knew.

You often hear students saying, “This place is hell” or “I’d rather die than be here” and most of the time they are told as jokes; not for me. During my sophomore year we had to decide what we wanted to do the following year, either attend Puget Sound Skills Center (PSSC) or Running Start; I had chosen the multimedia course at PSSC. The first month at PSSC was pretty good; a new environment with new people who all had a common interest; this was also the time I came to the realization that I want to be a screenwriter. I wouldn’t even last 2 months at PSSC, because a student choked me one day to the point where I had to kick him away; I feared everyday after, but I didn’t dare say a word; I took it out on myself, I self-harmed more regularly to the point I wanted to take my own life. October 2015, I was sent to Fairfax Behavioral Health Hospital for a week and a day; I remember crying on my last day because I felt I wasn’t ready to leave, I had also made friends while I was in there. I didn’t go to school for 3 months, trying to figure out what came next, and in January 2016 I was sent to the Woodside Alternative Campus, and online learning center. I fell into my old routine there, threw myself into my work extra hard to try and distract my bad brain. I completed all my necessary credit requirements at the end of November 2017, I could have gotten my diploma then, but my mother had always dreamed of seeing me in every my cap and gown walking across a stage, so I didn’t take it, not yet. I spent the next 7 months interning at NAVOS Mental Health and Wellness Center, I would give presentations in the Highline School District and as well as students at the UW where I am able to share my experiences to teach others.

The learning center was one of my greatest support systems when I needed it most, I saw the teachers as real people, interested in every word they had to say. With the learning center I was able to connect with SEA, and have the privilege of meeting Taylor Wells. Wells is the type of woman you greatly benefit from just by standing in a room with her; with her I have mainly been working on scholarship applications and was able to get the “No Time To Sleep” scholarship from Alaska Airlines. With this I am hoping to attend the Seattle Film Institute after a year of community college.

School; the word that once threw me into despair has shaped me into the person I am today, and although my mental health is still exceptionally bad, I am able to say that I will attend Highline College in September, then (hopefully) Seattle Film Institute, to one day see my name up on the silver screen, with screenwriter/director beside it.

-Jojo Ardon

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“I am very passionate, and never give up. No matter what!”

My name is Anitta Mejia and I am a full-time student at South Seattle College working to get my AAS degree in Culinary.

I also work full-time at a seafood restaurant and own my own catering business. I am a passionate and dedicated hard worker that is not only into cooking, but is also passionate about striving for more in my life. I graduated Student of the Year, from Career Link High School in 2015 and made it into college.

I was married at a young age, but recently divorced this year. Going through my separation, only made me stronger and wiser as a person and a student, and helped me become the dedicated passionate cook that I am. I did not give up or stop going to school through my separation, I simply just pushed myself to do better and keep getting through school with the support and motivation of all my college professors on campus. Going through the process of divorce, my family unfortunately was not very supportive, but I had others to help get me through.

My family always said I will not make it in life, but being the young independent woman I’ve grown up to be, have learned to leave all the hate in the past and welcome them with open arms when they are ready to do so. I am proud of how far I’ve gotten in life today without them, and I stand proud before the eyes of my professors and SEA Education Advocate, who have stood by my side in the long run and have seen all the hard work and dedication I put into my career and person life goals.

South Seattle College has been life changing for me. I am the first to have graduated high school on time and also the first in my family to have attended college. I have been very active in multiple events on campus and off campus as well. I own my own catering business outside of work and school. I am very passionate about what I do and never give up, no matter what. My big life goal is to hopefully own my own Mexican restaurant soon after I graduate from college. Life has been a struggle for me, but everyday I must push myself to do better for me because in the end, it will all have been worth it. My daily quote I tell myself everyday is “make today so great, that tomorrow gets jealous!”

I hope my story inspires others. It takes self-motivation and to want to do better for yourself. If I’ve learned anything, is with struggles, come huge success! And also positive thoughts bring positive outcomes!

-Anitta Mejia

 

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“They were like a second family to my daughter and me.”


Ursula (right) and her daughter, Alyson (left) are both SEA students.

Throughout my educational career I have overcome many personal challenges to get to where I am now. Growing up in Peru, I was raised with the understanding that my role as a woman was to become a wife and mother. I was never introduced to educational or career opportunities. This carried over into my life in the United States. For over 10 years, I embraced this role and raised my family. I would work odd jobs as a house cleaner, at fast-food restaurants, as a dish washer, and other menial labor jobs. As an immigrant without an American education, these were the only jobs available to me. In these positions, I faced harassment and was forced to deal with any treatment that I received, regardless of how inappropriate it was. I had no power and simply needed the jobs to pay my bills. As I moved from job to job, I always knew I wanted something more for myself, but I did not know where to begin.

Today, six years from the day I made the decision to enroll in school, I have completed the English for Speakers of Other Languages (EOSL) program, earned my general education degree (GED), graduated from Green River College with an Associate’s Degree in Business, and will graduate in a year from UW Tacoma with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business.

Seattle Education Access has been a big support for me throughout this journey. I met Jeff through the Master Achiever’s Center at Green River in 2013, and we have been working together ever since. SEA paid for my GED tests; supported me with financial aid applications; helped me decide on my major; connected me to tutoring support; provided scholarships to help me pay for classes, books, and supplies; and served as a sounding board when I needed to vent my frustrations.

Then, in 2015, I was able to enroll my daughter with SEA when she started at Green River. Alyson saw me struggling, but somehow finding a way to succeed, and this inspired her to pursue a degree. She also worked closely with Jeff at Seattle Education Access and was able to earn an Associate’s Degree and transfer to UW Tacoma this fall.

SEA has always been there whenever we needed support. Whether it was filling out paperwork, editing scholarship applications, or discussing personal struggles, we knew we had someone to turn to. They were like a second family to my daughter and me and provided guidance through a lot of difficult times.  I think I would have given up without the support provided through SEA, and I am so proud of where we are now and where we are headed.

-Ursula 

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“My Volunteer Experience is Equal Parts Inspiring and Gut Wrenching.”

Meet Mohammad: Gap Scholarship Committee, Board observer, math tutor and volunteer extraordinaire. 

My experience as an SEA volunteer has been equal parts inspiring and gut-wrenching. Last August, I joined another volunteer and full-time SEA staff member on a bright Saturday morning to interview students for the Gap Scholarships. From chipping in with tuition, childcare, transportation and securing housing, the Gap Scholarship is a flexible fund that provides financial support to students when they need it most.

Since the scholarship fund is limited, we interview new applicants to determine which students have the highest need and urgency. Over the course of 8 hours, we conducted a total of 13 interviews with students. In each student interview, we posed the same question set: “What are your higher education goals? Where are your underlying passions and interests derived from? What obstacles currently stand in the way of achieving said goals? How will the Gap Scholarship help you overcome said obstacles and, ultimately, achieve what you’ve set out to accomplish?”

Although the outputs (higher education goals) varied widely among the students, the inputs (the genesis of each student’s interests/passions) converged by-and-large to the same point. SEA students are self-aware, driven individuals who are out to actualize dreams that were deferred as a result of unforeseen life circumstances. In my interactions with SEA students that day, I was reminded of the following adage about character, “Character isn’t determined by what befalls you, but rather by how you respond to those unexpected challenges.”

After completing the interviews, we took a moment to review our notes on students’ interviews and application packages. During the subsequent deliberation on scholarship funding allocation, I felt a deep sadness upon realizing that we would not be able to meet the full monetary need of each applicant–let alone half of the monetary needs of all the Gap scholarship applicants. This wave of sadness was compounded when I thought of the asymmetry between the rather inconsequential scholarship award amount each student was requesting and the sizable benefit of that funding to each student.

Scholarship funding has a significant and immediate impact on student trajectories, since students request funding at crucial points in their educational journeys. Many applicants need a Gap Scholarship to cover their rent, help with childcare, tuition, certification fees, and so much more. Student requests last quarter totaled $64,308, while SEA only had $40,000 to allocate. This is a huge discrepancy ($24,308 deficit > 50% of quarterly fund)!

So, when you consider donating to SEA, think of the 10x, 20x, 30x, impact in students’ lives, both in the short and long term. Your generosity is inextricably linked to SEA’s ability to consistently provide support to students.

Donating to SEA gives you, the donor, a proverbial seat at the table during deliberations on scholarship allocation and creates an uptick in the total Gap Scholarship pool. Providing timely monetary support via the Gap Scholarship enables SEA students to continue their educational journeys, achieving their higher education goals and creating economic opportunity for both themselves and their loved ones.

For many, the Gap Scholarship is the difference between a student staying enrolled in school and dropping out. It’s time! With another round of scholarships right around the corner, join me in making a tax-deductible gift today and help us support over 800 young people across King County on their way to college degrees.

 

 

 

Mohammad Jama

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“They believe in us.”


Education has always been important to me — it is one of the main reasons why I decided to migrate to the United States. When I figured out what I wanted to do professionally, I decided to put all my energy into achieving that goal. My dream is to become a structural engineer so that I can design and build bridges. I knew school was going to be hard in terms of the workload, and expensive when it came to tuition. However, no one told me that in addition to these challenges, I was going to be faced with constantly proving my worth as a human being, that I would have to explain and defend my humanity to individuals and institutions, over and over.

I am a person who is undocumented. A person who, like many other people, has been forced to leave their hometown due to the lack of opportunity, with the hopes of creating a better life. Navigating the education system has been interesting to say the least. I started my education journey at a local community college, where I obtained my GED. There I also got a taste of what the “college experience” would look like for me. When I met up with an advisor to plan the path to reach my goal, I was told that as an undocumented person I had no right to go to college. This type of rejection was not new to me. Previously in my life, my immigration status had prevented me from professional growth. Nonetheless, I had to take the risk to be honest and open about my situation to avoid being pointed in the wrong direction.

Consequently, I decided to look into North Seattle College (NSC), where I found not only a vast amount of resources, but a community of knowledgeable people. Usually the responsibility of assisting minorities falls on a few people, making the assistance limited. At NSC, this was not different, yet I feel grateful for the small amount of people there who had done their homework. I am particularly thankful for the academic advisors. They proactively informed me of resources, such as financial aid, scholarships, counseling, as well as the benefits and risks that come in these processes.

For the most part, my time at NSC was pleasant. It definitely became more intense as the time to make preparations to transfer to a university approached. The process of applying to college is intricate on its own. It was new to me and especially overwhelming due to the barriers presented by my status. Additionally, while I was working on these applications, the political climate had started to intensify towards a more negative direction. Racist and hateful practices were starting to be normalized. All over, fear and uncertainty started to increase.

In my life, I have encountered and overcame difficult experiences. However, I had never experienced anxiety and stress in the way that I was experiencing it around this time. At this point, I was referred by a dear friend of mine to Seattle Education Access (SEA). At first, I was hesitant to contact SEA because I thought things would not be different, but I realized I had nothing to lose. I called SEA and met Penny Lipsou, an Education Advocate. Once again, I had to go to through the exhausting process of explaining my situation to a stranger with scarce hopes of finding actual help. However, here is where my college experience changed in a way I did not expect.

Penny is an amazing human being. She actively listened and let me know that she was there to help in any way I needed. To be honest, in the beginning I was skeptical of how much she wanted to help. This sense of doubt came from previous experiences where all I encountered were doors slammed in my face. Penny’s kindness, values, and hard work ethic, along with her resourcefulness and reliability, were a few elements that encouraged me to keep coming back to build trust with her. As we worked together more, I mentioned to Penny the importance of finding resources available to undocumented students in universities.

Penny went with me to visit university campuses. With her by my side, I felt supported going through this process, which I had greatly feared previously. The process of applying to college was extremely stressful. It seemed that on each application, I was essentially explaining the worthiness of my existence to institutions that have not been designed for undocumented students to succeed. In the process of working on these applications, I started experiencing intense self-doubt and high levels of anxiety. Thanks to Penny, I became aware of my mental health. She provided me with resources that are now allowing me to navigate and define what self-care looks like to me.

Multiple times, I have mentioned the positive impact that the work Penny is doing through SEA has made in my life. I know I am the one doing the work, but I am only able to do the work because Penny has my back. Thanks to Penny’s support, I was able to complete my prerequisites and end my time at NSC with a 3.81 GPA. Currently, I am at Seattle University in the Civil Engineering program. My tuition has been fully covered by scholarships and grants. Penny has provided me with tools that have empowered me. These connections have increased my confidence and my level of comfort in being more open about my status.

Times are still tough. Undocumented communities have become a target for the new administration. With the termination of DACA, there is a lot of uncertainty within our community. I have been focusing my efforts on continuing the work that other undocumented students have started at Seattle University. In order to support my community, I have started the Scarlet Group – a peer support network for undocumented students and allies at Seattle University.

The priceless support that Penny and SEA have provided me has empowered me to work on my schoolwork to reach my goal of becoming an engineer. Furthermore, it has increased my motivation to help others in the future. I am grateful to have made that call to SEA and to have met Penny.

This holiday season, please consider a tax-deductible gift of $250, $100 or $50 or more to Seattle Education Access so over 800 young people across King County can follow their dreams. SEA is the only college access program in Washington serving students not in traditional high schools who are facing profound hardships. Their Education Advocates help us decide on a career, choose academic program, apply for school and funding, study for tests, get school supplies, and connect us to childcare and other resources. Most importantly, they believe in us.

 

 

 

 

Jorge

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“Having an Education Advocate made the whole process 1,000 times easier.”

SEA student Margarita is studying to be a nurse and receives support through SEA’s Mody Scholarship Fund, started by Simmone & Ashok Misra

My name is Margarita and I am 24 years old. This is my second year attending Renton Technical College and I am currently working on my pre-nursing classes, in order to get into a nursing program. My ultimate goal is and has always been to become a nurse. My father has had some health issues and I want to be more knowledgeable about medicine in order to better understand his experiences in the hospital or when he gets sick – and I want job stability.

Last year was my first year back in the educational world since leaving high school. If anyone ever asked me why that 5-year delay, I have to attribute it to two main reasons: the first one, money and the second, the fact that in my family I am the first generation to attend higher level education.

That combination can seriously intimidate anyone from pursuing their dreams, especially without having anyone to guide them or share knowledge about a world that is known very little of. My sister, who graduated from Renton Technical College, worked with SEA Education Advocate Jeff and suggested I ask for assistance with financial aid. When I found out about Seattle Education Access and all the services it offered, it gave me that boost I needed to return to school. Having an Education Advocate made the whole process 1,000 times easier.

I remember the exact moment I walked into Nicollette’s office and basically said “I’m ready to go back to school!” Her next words were even better, “Okay. Where do you want to go?” That question made me smile and assured me of so much. She let me know that if I ever had questions about anything, she was there to help. Ever since I met her, she hasn’t let me down!

Last year, I was super fortunate to receive a scholarship award through SEA’s Mody Fund and it was a tremendous help! Fall quarter, I was able to use my funds to pay for the portion of the tuition that my financial aid wasn’t able to cover. This was the best way to start of the year. I was able to focus on my studies and not worry about how I was going to pay my tuition or supplies. Winter quarter, I again was awarded more money and in the long run it helped tremendously. At the end of Spring quarter, I was left in debt, due to a few errors made by the financial aid office. Mind you, a much smaller debt because of the huge help SEA has been! But to be honest if it wasn’t for all the help SEA has given me, the pure thought of going back to school wouldn’t been possible.

Last year’s SEA scholarship helped me come back to school and stay in school. These funds have given me the opportunity to focus more on my studies than on how to pay for them. This year, it means the same and more. When I last left school I had a debt, a huge one for me. I didn’t know how I would be able to pay it off. Nicollette and I were able to work on a plan that gave me more peace at mind. This plan proved to be successful as I am now back enrolled in classes without a financial burden.

At this very moment, I am more than ready and inspired to work harder to accomplish my goal of becoming a nurse! This scholarship has given me that last boost I needed to hit the floor running and continue to work towards a dream my younger self created and all thanks to Seattle Education Access and The Mody Fund!

-Margarita

 

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