Hollie Wagner tells a story that many first-generation college students can relate to. She thought going to college wasn’t financially possible. Now, she will continue her education as a graduate student at the University of Washington thanks to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship.
Nominated in 2014, Wagner will be a two–time recipient of the prestigious JKC scholarship named for the Canadian entrepreneur who made an indelible impression on American major league sports.
Making it to the University of Washington’s College of Education where she will be studying the philosophy of education, the path to college wasn’t always an easy one. She describes herself as a student who wasn’t naturally engaged.
"Throughout high school I was a challenging student. I didn’t see things the way everyone else did," said Wagner. "I came from a low-income family and while my grades were great, I didn’t think college was possible for me."
Not knowing where she wanted to go in life, she wasn’t prepared, and she didn’t have the financial access she needed to think about college.
"Neither of my parents finished high school and they were much older," said Wagner. "My mother had a stroke when I was twelve and couldn’t communicate. School was the last thing on my mind, so I worked straight through my twenties. I got bored, then went to community college which stimulated my mind."
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Scholarship award opened the door to the future for Wagner. The scholarship funded her ability to transfer from community college to Evergreen. It is the largest community college transfer scholarship in the country, and is unique because it is awarded to many nontraditional students with a high GPA and financial need.
After community college, Wagner wanted to find a place that she could relate to and would meet her needs. She said studying at Evergreen prepared her to achieve her education goals and gave her the discipline she needed to get to where she is today.
"I was allowed to control my own curriculum and essentially design my own program at Evergreen," she said. "Growth is one of the most important aspects of evaluation. You can reflect on your progress and it’s much better than grades, because you can recognize where you started and where you arrived. The evaluations are a lot like life."
Wagner believes access to education and passion are the key ingredients to academic success: "I want students who come behind me to know that it doesn’t matter where you come from," she said. "The number one key to success is doing what you’re passionate about without societal end goals."