Community college scholars overcome odds
Marquita Buchanan, Class of '11, transferred to Bucknell from Philadelphia Community College
Posted: November 16, 2009
LEWISBURG, Pa. — For two years, Marquita Buchanan was paralyzed by fear of leaving her mother's house in Philadelphia. Her anxiety was so great, she refused even to look out a window.
After talking to a psychiatrist on the phone, Buchanan was diagnosed with depression and severe agoraphobia, a condition that surfaced after her parents' divorce. Little by little, she overcame her anxiety. And in 2007, she took the big step of enrolling at the Community College of Philadelphia with the ultimate goal of studying political science and creative writing.
"I almost had to be a robot and say, 'Just go,' until it became natural," Buchanan recalled. "I was afraid, and I had low self-esteem. I felt like all eyes were looking at me. But I knew that if I applied to school, I'd have to go, because I don't like to say I am going to do something and not do it."
In 2008, Buchanan, now 26, applied and was accepted to the Bucknell Community College Scholars summer program, which is jointly sponsored by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and Bucknell. She completed her associate's degree and was awarded a full tuition, need-based scholarship to pursue a bachelor's degree at Bucknell.
Buchanan is one of 59 community college transfer students who have enrolled at Bucknell since the fall of 2007. The university is among eight national institutions that partner with the Cooke foundation and five community colleges in Pennsylvania and Maryland to offer exceptional students need-based scholarships to pursue four-year degrees.
The Cooke Foundation has contributed about $222,000 a year during the past three years for start-up and support costs. Bucknell, in turn, has committed more than $2 million in need- based scholarships so far, said Mark Davies, assistant vice president for enrollment management.
Bucknell in the past has not targeted transfer students, largely because the university has a high retention rate and there were not a lot of enrollment opportunities available, Davies said. The community college scholars program offered an opportunity to diversify the student body. The students tend to be older than the average Bucknell student and have different life experiences. They also have a strong sense of purpose, determination and appreciation for the educational opportunity that many never thought possible, Davies said. University officials plan to build on the successes of the community college transfer program.
From Afghanistan to Bucknell
Twenty-eight-year-old Perry Schneck, whose brother, Kevin, also was a Bucknell community college scholar, returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan in August and arrived at Bucknell a couple of weeks later.
Both Kevin, who graduated in May, and Perry Schneck, who grew up in Harrisburg, left home when they were teenagers and lived on their own. Perry Schneck hopped from place to place and worked in a series of jobs, waiting tables and washing dishes at restaurants. But he stayed in school and graduated from high school. Perry Schneck later reconnected with his mother and brother and moved to California then joined the U.S. Air Force in 2001 so he would have money for school.
After being deployed three times, Schneck decided it was time to go back to school. One of his buddies who also had been stationed in Georgia told him about a job opportunity in Harrisburg, so Schneck returned to his hometown. He became an Air Force reservist, working as an electronic commission systems specialist. After a year, he enrolled at Harrisburg Area Community College to pursue an associate's degree in aerospace technology.
Schneck found out about the Bucknell Community College Transfer Program through his brother, who also transferred to Bucknell from HACC. He had visited Bucknell and liked the intimate campus. So he switched his major to mechanical engineering. Community college transfer students who pursue engineering degrees typically need three years to complete the degree requirements, so Schneck is slated to graduate in 2012.
"It's pretty crazy coming from what I come from," Schneck said. "I probably would never have imagined coming here. I've worked really hard. I don't know where it will take me, but I don't want to fail."
From Ghana to Bucknell
Kodjo Karikari, 22, of Ghana, moved to the United States seven years ago to reunite with his father, whom he had not seen since he was 2 years old. Karikari's father moved to New Jersey to work and send money and items back to his family. Karikari decided to stay in the United States to pursue an education.
"They lack the facilities to provide you with a great education," Karikari said of Ghana. "They don't really allow people to study what they love. There are no music classes. Computers were a problem back then. Getting access to a computer was hard."
Karikari moved from New Jersey to Pennsylvania three years ago with his mother and enrolled at HACC, where he learned about the community college transfer program.
"Something told me to turn around and listen to the presentation," Karikari said. "After high school, I got accepted into a couple of good universities, but I had no funds."
Karikari studied biology at HACC with the idea of going to medical school, but he did not have a solid plan. He participated in the Bucknell community college summer program at Bucknell in 2008 and returned to HACC to finish his associate's degree. He now is majoring in neuroscience.
"It is an absolutely outstanding school," Karikari said. "I wouldn't dream in a million years to apply. I'm really grateful I'm here. It's a blessing."
Dreams of the silver screen
As a teenager in Peru, Diego Chiri dreamed of becoming a film director, but that was not an option for him in his home country.
"There was no way I could study film in Peru," Chiri recalled. "That is not seen as a serious career there."
After graduating from high school, Chiri, who spoke no English, followed his parents to the United States. He enrolled at the Community College of Philadelphia and settled into American culture. The community college did not have a film studies program, but Chiri learned how to study for college and became a leader in a number of student organizations.
He learned about the Cooke program when Davies visited his college campus.
"If I hadn't gotten this scholarship, I wouldn't know what to do," Chiri said. "I will take advantage of every opportunity. It means everything. I will study really hard and learn to learn and live the Bucknell experience. That's what it's all about."
A whole new world
Buchanan, the student from Philadelphia who once feared leaving her home, now aspires to be a political analyst or a fiction writer.
She still struggles every day with her fears but is motivated by the great freedom that education provides her.
"I have so much to look forward to," she said. "This opens up a whole new world for me."
Buchanan's mother also is thrilled, Marquita said. "To her, two years ago I was this person who didn't leave the house. Two years later, I'm a different person."
Contact: Divison of Communication
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