College of DuPage student Abigail Escatel is the recipient of the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students.
The Riverside resident is one of 73 students nationwide to receive the scholarship and the sixth COD recipient in the school's history. The scholarship consists of $30,000 annually to cover educational expenses -- including tuition, room and board, books, and fees -- for the final two or three years as the student completes a bachelor's degree. Click here to view photos of College of DuPage President Robert L. Breuder surprising Escatel in class to announce she had received the scholarship.
Escatel is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who left a high school known for its high dropout rate and thought her options for further education were limited.
"My test scores were not the best," she said. "A majority of my friends dropped out, and while I was not encouraged to continue, I did finish high school."
She spent most of the next two years working, taking a six-month break to care for her newborn daughter, Natalia. But it was her curiosity about college and a desire to find a financially stable career that led her to College of DuPage.
Initially interested in the Paralegal Studies program, Escatel expected only to get the bare minimum out of her experience.
"In high school, we were pushed into tests without thinking about the material. Things were thrown at me without explanation," she said. "At College of DuPage, I began developing critical thinking skills, and it was a much better experience than I ever had before."
When Escatel enrolled in Speech Communications with Professor Lauren Morgan, she learned how to speak without a script and how to say something without guidance. She also discovered her passion, which led to her decision to join the Forensics team.
"During my first year on the team, everything was so new and I was learning so much, but I also realized I had found my niche and that I had found a family," she said. "I never had an experience where I was part of a team. It broke down a wall."
Instead of just getting by, Escatel was determined to get as much as possible out of her education. Her success on the speech team gave her the confidence to try other activities. Today, in addition to working more than 20 hours per week, she is a member of the Honors Program with a 3.889 GPA, a member of Phi Theta Kappa and a New Student Orientation Leader.
She also is captain of the Forensics Team and won a gold medal in Communication Analysis at the 2013 Phi Rho Pi National Forensics Tournament, where she also helped the team win its first national championship in 10 years. Morgan praised Escatel's leadership and passion.
"Abby is one of the most intellectually curious, academically talented and promising undergraduate students I have known," she said. "However, my greatest pleasure is knowing Abby personally and experiencing her humor, intellect and positive attitude even in the toughest times. As a first generation college student and single mother, Abby is the poster child for determination, perseverance and grace under pressure."
Escatel is still deciding whether to transfer to Northwestern University or North Central College, and she plans to major in communications and earn bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. She is honored to receive the Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship and admitted she wasn't aware of the amount of work she had put into her education.
"I fell in love with learning at College of DuPage. The faculty made me think outside the realm of the classroom and that there was more to the world than just getting an 'A,'" she said. "The hardest part was not being afraid to devote so much time to what I wanted to pursue.
"I also want to be an inspiration to my daughter. I don't want her to have the same obstacles I had to overcome. I am showing her that success is within her grasp."