Community Colleges of Spokane is excited to announce that Spokane Community College student Ilya Alekseev and Spokane Falls Community College student Eliza Johnson were recently recognized and awarded by the Washington State Association of College Trustees (ACT) at the ACT Transforming Lives Awards.
“One of our biggest challenges as trustees is to go through all of the Spokane applications and nominations and pick just one student from each college,” said Glenn Johnson, Chair of the CCS Board of Trustees, which selected the two students. “There are so many wonderful stories of how lives were changed because of the impact of our community colleges.”
The ACT awards were created to honor students who have been transformed by pursuing higher education at a community or technical college. Normally, the statewide ACT Awards Committee chooses six students from a pool of nominations and recognizes them as keynote speakers and awards them a $500 check.
“Our student honorees this year represent the quality of students our colleges have,” said CCS Chancellor Christine Johnson. “Our students bring their many gifts, and despite challenging issues in their lives, they rise above the circumstances, and determined to succeed do “the impossible’ to realize their dreams. We are proud of our honorees Alekseev and Johnson, and all they have accomplished. They are an inspiration to us all and to their fellow students.”
Due to COVID precautions, the awards dinner scheduled for Jan. 24 was cancelled.Instead, each of the 28 students received a $200 check thanks to a generous $5,000 sponsorship from College Spark Washington.
“To be chosen for this, it’s an amazing feeling to have my story heard,” said Alekseev, who added that the money will go a long way towards helping him get ahead on bills. “I kind of feel like I’m becoming a celebrity.
Alekseev, who attends SCC as a Respiratory Therapist student, wrote in his nomination essay about the barriers he faced on his way toward higher education, including dropping out of high school and having a child at 17. The 24-year-old began school at SCC after a coworker at an RV lot convinced him he could do anything.
Alekseev quickly enrolled but negative thoughts crept in. They were quashed by two mentors, Professor Carmen Green, and Interim Provost Dr. Lori Hunt, who both told him that he worked harder than most students, so why couldn’t he succeed?
“Driving towards Spokane Community College, I saw the signs that said, ‘You Belong Here,’” Alekseev wrote in his essay. “This kept me coming back.”
Johnson, who is on a path toward graduating from SFCC with a transfer degree in biology and who in the fall of 2022 will attend Washington State University’s School of Molecular Biosciences, wrote about family as a barrier to success.
Even still, she felt a sense of duty to help her father.
“My father has been homeless or housing-insecure since I was a child,” Johnson wrote. “I need to succeed in my career to support him as he ages.”
Johnson said two of the biggest influences at SFCC were Michelle Pearson, who teaches biology, and Janae Carrothers, the Math Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) director who has acted as a counselor and friend.
“I hope students entering community college know that the staff and professors are here to help you,” Johnson wrote. “Asking for help here always leads to a better situation. It’s been a new experience to have people really care about my success, and has helped me care about and believe in my own dreams more than ever before.”
Dr. Hunt, who transitioned into her new role as Interim Provost of CCS late last year, said she was proud to have Alekseev and Johnson representing the colleges and community.
“Their stories, like so many of our students, remind us of why we exist as institutions of higher education providing service to the community,” she said. “When our students succeed, our community succeeds and we look forward to the impact Ilya and Eliza will have in the community beyond CCS.”