Education scholarship changes future for ECC student Edwina Watkins

"I still have chills because I didn't think I would actually get it," said Elgin Community College early childhood education student Edwina Watkins, recipient of the Early Childhood Access Consortium for Equity Scholarship. The ECACE Scholarship helps educators pursue credentials to build a robust and well-prepared workforce.

"I didn't know if I belonged in college," she said, "but when they came into my classroom and called my name, I broke down in front of everyone."

As a 44-year-old first-generation college student, the Streamwood resident is one of six siblings but the only one to attempt higher education.

She enrolled at ECC shortly after completing her high school equivalency diploma in July 2022. "After I finished my high school diploma, while I still had that fire in me, I decided to keep going," Watkins said. "I decided it does not matter the time of year or how old I am. So I did it. And here I am."

A veteran of early childhood education as an in-home child care provider, her love for children and passion for the field encouraged her to take it further and pursue a degree at ECC. One of her professors encouraged her to apply for the ECACE scholarship because of her experience and academic success. "This scholarship took a huge weight off my shoulders. I still cannot believe I am here, this late in life, trying to fulfill something that truly makes me feel complete." She was recently inducted into ECC's Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society chapter.

Watkins is a mother and a grandmother, another driving force behind her desire to finish her degree and inspire them along the way. Even in moments of doubt, like when she first entered her English class and noticed the age gap between her and her classmates, she found the encouragement she needed from her professor to remind her she did belong, a reminder Watkins now shares with her classmates.

"I'm the type that I'll stay in the background, but I love to push people forward," Watkins said. "If you know something that can help someone, you share it. Then we can all move up to where we need to be." As soon as she learned of her scholarship award, she immediately encouraged her classmates to apply. She continues to follow up with them and provides help whenever and wherever they need it.

Watkins plans to open a child care center outside her home to serve her community better.

"I feel like I have so much to bring to the community. I have a big personality and want to use it to help people."

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