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From dropout to a success

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Nikki Hurtado, winner of Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship

Nikki Hurtado

Nikki Hurtado enrolled at Portland Community College in 2004 for one reason: she wanted to be the first in her family to attend college after dropping out of high school to have a child. Little did she realize that two years later, she would have 90,000 reasons to keep going to school.

At a surprise ceremony in May, Hurtado was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. She is one of 51 nationwide recipients that will receive $30,000 per year for three years to complete her bachelor’s degree. Hurtado is one of two Jack Kent Cooke Scholars from PCC. Read about the other PCC Cooke scholar, Elizabeth Bair.

“I had no clue,” Hurtado said of the award. “I’m just amazed. It is such a big award that I thought I couldn’t ever win it.”

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation awards the undergraduate transfer scholarships each year to students attending community colleges or two-year institutions in the United States who plan to transfer to four-year institutions. This year, the Foundation received 723 applications for the 51 awards.

The 34-year-old Hurtado, a resident of Beaverton, is a history major with a 3.91 grade point average and plans to study at Pacific University in Forest Grove. She has made the President’s List and is an active member of Phi Theta Kappa, is a devoted community volunteer, and plans to be a high school teacher.

But things were not always so stellar for her. A high school dropout, Hurtado admitted she had given up on herself. She had been working in minimum wage jobs with no prospects of advancement and she had a family of three to feed.

“I thought I’d go to college when my kids were all grown and in college,” she said. “But I was tired of dead-end jobs and friends kept telling me that it was possible to go to college and raise a family. Now I’m doing homework on the sidelines of my kids’ soccer games. It shows my kids what their mom did and what my children can do with their own lives.”

When she came to PCC, Hurtado found immediate help. Financial aid staff and advisors helped her find funds and the right classes, while College Success classes and the Women’s Resource Center helped expand her PCC experience. From the Women’s Resource Center, she found community service work at El Monica Elementary School in Beaverton where she works with kids through an English as a Second Language literacy program.

hurtado“I help them bridge that gap between themselves and the teacher,” said Hurtado, who is fluent in Spanish. “I tell them what the teacher is saying and what is going on in class. It’s great to see them go from being completely clueless to understanding everything that is going on in class and being a part of it.

“I want to be a high school teacher and help kids not fall through the cracks,” she added. “My life experience has prepared me for this.”

But nothing prepared Hurtado for that spring morning at the Rock Creek Campus’ Event Center. Hurtado had no idea what was going to happen as she strolled to the building with mentors Christine Paull, the Women’s Resource Center’s coordinator, and Loretta Dike, a student activities assistant. As she sat down, she was preparing to accept an award for the center from Katherine Persson, Rock Creek’s president, and her campus cabinet when Michael Morrow, a coordinator in PCC’s Financial Aid Office, appeared.

In seconds, Morrow announced that Hurtado was the second-ever PCC student to earn a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship. She immediately broke down in tears as the cabinet members clapped and cheered.

“I thought they were going to give us some plaque for the Women’s Resource Center,” Hurtado said. “At first, I didn’t even think I heard him right. ‘Did he say Jack Kent Cooke scholarship?’ I thought. Then I realized I had won it. I was totally shocked.”

About James Hill

James G. Hill, an award-winning journalist and public relations writer, has been the Communications Specialist for the Office of Public Affairs at Portland Community College since November of 1999. A graduate of Portland State University, J... more »