Monica Botwinick has been highly engaged at UCC as a full-time student, peer mentor, Phi Theta Kappa five-star officer, QSA Club president, and Debate Club public relations officer, as well as wife and mother of three. After experiencing many life challenges, like simultaneously being homeless, jobless, and pregnant at 21 years old, Botwinick allowed those experiences to take the backseat on a journey filled with opportunities to help others who have also dealt with loss and persistent struggle.
Recently, Botwinick found herself on a fast-track to bringing her visions of becoming a Post-Partum Mental Health Counselor to fruition. “On April 23, over 30 supporters, many of her “UCC family” members and friends encircled Botwinick in the Student Center lobby with UCC President Debra Thatcher in the wings as Marjan Coester, director for Student Engagement, presented Botwinick with news that would change her life’s trajectory forever.” Botwinick was about to be presented with an award worth up to $120,000 to help her continue her studies.
“When the opportunity to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship came around, I hadn’t heard about it before. Marjan was telling me what it was, I said okay cool that sounds fine. I have no chance of winning this, but okay,” Botwinick says. “When I was applying, the application was so long, so intense, and so hard, I wasn’t interested in doing it again. But when the semi-finalist list came around and I was on it as the first of four in Oregon, I thought this was something I should take more seriously.”
Coester kept abreast of Botwinick’s progress throughout the application process. “Back in January Marjan asked me if I heard from Jack Kent Cooke. I said no. In her office, Marjan told me I was one of the semi-finalists, a cohort of 550 semi-finalists out of 1,500 applicants,” Botwinick says.
Botwinick was thrilled as she read the notification herself. “Then, I got the email from them that said ‘It’s an honor even to be designated as a semi-finalist. We encourage you to apply to schools like John Hopkins, Yale, Cornell.’ They were never on my radar -ever. I got accepted into Portland State University back in September. They were always my trajectory. I said, I’m going to transfer to Portland State, study Social Work with a minor in Psychology. I want to be a Post-Partum Mental Health Counselor,” Botwinick said.
“Then it started to settle in how big of a deal this was.”
By winning the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, Botwinick is eligible for up to $40,000 a year for three years, and the scholarship covers tuition, room/board, books, and other required fees. The amount and duration of her award depends upon the cost of attendance at her school of choice, the length of the program and the amount of other scholarships or grants that she receives, according to Coester.
“Marjan told me ‘The Jack Kent Cooke selected 61 scholars this year, and you’re one of them.’ and I just instantly burst into tears,” Botwinick says. “The fact that Dr. Thatcher was here, and she hugged me, saying ‘I’m so proud of you,’ it was just a real touching moment for me. I never would’ve thought a few years ago that I’d first of all be in college, second of all receive one of the most prestigious scholarships offered to Community College students.”
Botwinick felt for many years that she looked subpar on paper. “I have all these marks against me. But they (the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation) were like, no, these aren’t marks against you; these are what make you special, these are what make you desirable. The fact that they read that and wanted to invest in my education, and my vision for what I want to be has been surreal,” Botwinick says.
The level of surreality goes up a notch when Botwinick remembers her past. “This time 11 years ago I was pregnant, homeless, jobless, and 21 years old,” Botwinick says. “I had lost my apartment and I didn’t have a high school diploma at that time.”
Botwinick did everything she could to make ends meet, reaching out for every assistance resource Douglas County had to offer. She started by working at Safeway bagging groceries to build-up skills to climb a perpetual ladder, staying hopeful for more.
Botwinick’s life changed for the better a few years later after she married her husband Jeremy. They soon added two daughters to their family, but the children came at a cost. During both pregnancies Botwinick suffered from pre-eclampsia, which led to post-partum depression and anxiety after the high-risk births for her daughters Margo, 4, and Daphne, 2. She sought out counseling for help. Soon thereafter, she decided to share about the obstacles she fought against in order to encourage someone else.
Botwinick realized the value in opening up about her life experiences and what brought her to UCC: “I almost died twice. I’ve been homeless. I’ve gone through all these experiences. I want to go back to school, because I want to use those experiences for something. I don’t want to sit here and feel bad for myself about all the bad things that have happened to me. I want to turn those experiences around and use them to help other people,” Botwinick says.
Botwinick followed-through right away after deciding to further her education by attending G.E.D summer courses, then she scored in the 97th percentile for her G.E.D test: “I finished my math test and immediately walked in here and enrolled, and then started classes three weeks later. That was fall term of 2017.”
To kick-off her new college career, Botwinick embarked on a plan. “I had such a difficult time in high school because my parents were divorcing and I just didn’t feel challenged in high school, so it caused me to look outside of school and do things that bored teenagers do,” Botwinick says. “So when I came back to college I was like, I’m gonna get that experience that I didn’t get in high school. I’m gonna get involved, do things, and be a presence on campus, and make the most out of it.”
“The first thing I sought out was Queer Straight Advocacy, the QSA club. I said these are the people who understand and know what I’m going through. They have also felt that sense of not belonging or they have had difficult times and so I sought that out,” Botwinick says. She went on to become engaged in the Debate Club as well as the International Honors Society, Phi Theta Kappa.
Botwinick is particularly grateful for all the opportunities that Coester has given her. “Marjan has taken me to leadership conferences, and she’s put a lot of trust in me as an advocate and a representative for UCC. Recently I got to go to Salem and testify to law-makers in support of a bigger community college budget, and I went with Dr. Thatcher,” Botwinick says.
Botwinick is thankful for support from friends she has connected to on campus such as Jesika Barnes and Jantyne Bunce. “Jessica and I are the dynamic duo. We do everything together. We have two travel-trips coming up. We’re always getting involved to do stuff, and we’re always the ones saying, ‘We’ll go!’ in chorus.”
Barnes, a fellow peer mentor, refers to Botwinick as an inspiring influence. “Every single person around her (Botwinick) wants to try more, and do more, and be better. Even me, I’m a high achiever naturally, but being around Monica, inspires me to go try things that maybe I wouldn’t have the confidence to try without her in my life,” Barnes says.
“Jantyne sought me out last year to be a peer mentor, and she was my trainer over the summer. This year she went to New Women’s Leadership up in Portland, and then I get to go this year,” Botwinick says.
Botwinick will start her relationship with the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation this summer with an exciting trip that entails networking with fellow scholars, business skills workshops, navigating the transfer student experience and more. “This August they’re flying me out to the Washington D.C. area. …. For many first-year transfer students, it’s jarring, and their grades take a hit. The Foundation gives you an advisor to help guide you through,” Botwinick says. “It’s been like a whirlwind learning everything this scholarship entails. It’s not just a monetary gain. I’ll be gaining all these friends, connections, and help.”
Botwinick stresses the importance of resources and support for greater success. “Without my husband, his family, my family here at UCC, Accessibility, TRiO/TOP -everything I use, I wouldn’t have been able to do it without all of them.”
“I feel like there’s always a purpose, and my purpose was to be here at this time,” Botwinick says.