How Getting Involved Changed the Lives of Four MCC Students

By Madiha Kark

As a college student, staying engaged with coursework and campus life can seem intimidating if not impossible. But for a select group of students at MCC this engagement is a fundamental part of their educational experience, as well as their own core values.

After a competitive application process, a select group of students are named Presidential Scholars each year at McLennan Community College. The students receive a full scholarship and spend the year volunteering around the community, sharing new ideas with campus administrators, and traveling around the country. We sat down with several of these students to learn more about their experience at MCC, and how it has been shaped by this program.

From the start, freshman Ethan Blanton emphasized the power of leadership when recounting his experience as a Presidential Scholar. At just 19 years old Blanton grounds himself daily with the responsibilities his position entails.

“Our number one responsibility is (to) know that we are representing our school. Whether it is at dinner with a speaker… we know the speaker is seeing MCC when he sees us.”

When I asked Blanton to describe his experience with a recent speaker, a grin spread across his face instantly. “Okay,” he said, “my absolute favorite speaker was Supreme Court Justice Clarence Brown. That was one of my favorite experiences in the program but also just in life,” he said sincerely, still maintaining a slight sense of disbelief that this moment had actually occurred. “I never would’ve had the chance to do this, to meet this wonderful man, unless I was in Presidential Scholars.”

Echoing this sentiment, sophomore Scholar Elijah Espinoja spoke of the rarity of these experiences and volunteer efforts. “There are certain experiences we have had here that not many people get,” he said humbly.

This advice has proved beneficial for Espinoja, who radiated a profound sense of both leadership and gratitude throughout the entirety of the interview. “Being involved in this program has opened so many doors for me,” he said while speaking of his own personal and academic experiences at MCC.

One of these doors opened after meeting an engineer at a Presidential Scholars event, when he was inspired to change his major to mechanical engineering. Even with this change Espinoja emphasized the stability he found on campus at MCC. “MCC is a great place,” he said, “everything about this school has been really good to me.”

So good in fact, that Espinoja has now inspired his younger brother to attend MCC and join him in the Presidential Scholars program. He expressed the importance of getting involved on campus, a trait that he seems to have been passed down to his brother Matthew.

“Getting involved anywhere is important,” he advised. “That is how you are going to succeed. You never know who you are going to meet… So do as much as you can, because the experience you get here is one of a kind.”

For freshman Seraphina Gayle, this sentiment of involvement resonated with her own experience throughout her first year at MCC. Gayle visibly lit up when discussing the role of other Presidential Scholars in her life.

“I think it’s important to be involved,” she said, discussing the friendships made through campus involvement. “A lot of times you can put your heads together and figure out what you want to change on campus.”

This people-oriented mentality seemed to be a theme throughout Gayle’s recollection of her time at MCC, but also has roots in the early days of her life. As a first generation college student, Gayle noted the importance of two fundamental people, her mother and father, throughout her educational career.

“For me (college) is something my parents haven’t done,” she said, “so we’re all figuring it out together.” When asked about her parents later she opened up about their impact on her college experience this far. “It definitely makes me more motivated,” she said candidly. “And college truly does have a meaning for me.”

Freshman Presidential Scholar Yuridia Navarro shares a similar story, as a first generation college student centered on motivation stemming from her own lineage. In every possible moment to glorify herself, Navarro managed to highlight the sacrifice and motivation from her parents as the explanation for her continued success.

“My parents came from Mexico for a better education for us and a better future for us,” she said of herself and her two younger siblings. “So them seeing me go to school for free fulfills the purpose of their struggle.”

When asked about the program’s application process, Navarro openly discussed her initial intimidation of the Presidential Scholars program. “I don’t even really remember the application,” she admitted sheepishly. “I just thought ‘this is Presidential; I am not worthy of this.’”

But soon this attitude was changed with the reception of the scholarship, and her concurrent experiences both on campus and around the community. “It makes me humble,” she said. “It makes me feel good giving back to my community because my community has given so much to me through MCC.”

And give back she plans to do, with a bright vision for a career in psychology after graduation. “I think about my family and how none of us have an education, and (how) I want to be that chain that breaks,” she said truthfully. Even with impressive accomplishments behind her and achievable goals ahead, Navarro still shifted the attention away from herself and towards others.

“I want to be a new generation,” she told me. “I want to be the motivation for my younger siblings.”

For each of these students, the sky seems to be the limit for both academic and professional success. But perhaps the most impressive factor linking each of them is the shared responsibility to make a difference; at MCC, around the community and even within their own households. Their deep sense of humility and focus on helping others is as prevalent as it is profound, as these four individuals succeed in inspiring all those around them.

Madiha Kark is a Marketing, Communications and Photography Specialist at McLennan Community College. She holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Texas. She loves to travel, cook, and read nonfiction books.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.












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