Success Stories

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The Phi Theta Kappa Experience changes lives.

Membership recognizes academic excellence and helps members grow as scholars and servant leaders united by fellowship. Members have access to millions of dollars in scholarships, resources and life skills to help them succeed as students and productive civically-engaged citizens.

In the current climate of economic unrest, the opportunities provided by Phi Theta Kappa are needed now more than ever. Phi Theta Kappa membership helps students win scholarships and acquire the leadership, critical thinking and organizational skills sought by prospective employers. The value of membership is beyond measure.

Success Story: Olya Homonchuk

Olya Homonchuk
Alpha Kappa Alpha Chapter
Normandale Community College
Olya Homonchuk

Olya Homonchuk

Phi Theta Kappa member Olya Homonchuk’s mantra is simple: never doubt yourself. As an international student dedicated to pursuing her dreams, she has stuck to her guns, setting her sights on success from the beginning. And now, her dedication has paid off, as she prepares to start in the fall at Cornell University — on a full scholarship.

“Many people were doubting me, but I always wanted to go (to Cornell)” said 20-year-old Homonchuk. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as just luck. I believe that the harder you work, the more luck you get.”

Homonchuk first moved to the United States from the Ukraine when she was 15 as an international transfer student. Upon graduating from high school, she returned to her native country, where she worked and saved money so she could pursue her dreams of attending college in America.

“The first time I came to the United States, I saw how many opportunities there are,” she said. “And here, if you have an education, you have endless possibilities.”

Homonchuk returned to the United States and enrolled at Normandale Community College in Minnesota. A friend encouraged her to accept membership into Phi Theta Kappa; and, just two weeks after her induction, she was named a chapter officer.

“(Olya) ran for office the first opportunity she had, and she deliberately chose Vice President of Scholarship, the position that sounded like it was the most challenging and has the most possibility of doing something good on campus, because that position is responsible for directing our Honors in Action project,” said chapter advisor Linda Tetzlaff. “From the start, she was a focused and organized person and completely reliable.”

Homonchuk quickly became one of the most well known Phi Theta Kappa members on her campus. She organized a successful food drive for the then-Minn-Wi-Kota Region, went on to serve as her chapter’s President and was runner-up for 2012-2013 International President. She also presented a successful Educational Forum for international students during the 2013 Annual Convention in San Jose, California.

Her Phi Theta Kappa chapter has become her family. Homonchuk keeps in touch with her chapter’s past four presidents, she’s made friends on the local, regional and international level, and she’s become close with her college’s administrators, faculty and staff.

“Olya fell in love with Phi Theta Kappa and all it is able to do for its members,” Tetzlaff said. “In fact, I remember saying to a colleague that she was the most perfect fit to the criteria of a Jack Kent Cooke Scholar of any of our applicants.”

Homonchuk is the fifth Jack Kent Cooke Scholar from Normandale since 2006, Tetzlaff said. The Jack Kent Cooke Scholars program awards up to $30,000 per year to each of approximately 60 deserving students. In 2013, 62 of the 73 recipients were Phi Theta Kappa members.

Homonchuk was also named a Guistwhite Scholar and a member of the All-Minnesota Academic Team. The full scholarship to Cornell University is the cherry on top of an already successful academic career.

“Olya is a true inspiration for all of our members and a true testament to the success that community college students can achieve,” said Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director and CEO Dr. Rod Risley. “Her strength, courage and perseverance prove that our members have what it takes to rise above humbling circumstances and not only compete but help others rise above as well.

“We are extremely proud of what she has achieved, and we know that this is only the beginning for her.”

Homonchuk credits Tetzlaff and her other chapter advisors with helping her submit winning scholarship applications. She encourages other members to reach out to their advisors for help when writing essays and completing applications.

“Without Phi Theta Kappa, I would not have gotten any scholarships,” she said. “I would not have all of the qualities that schools are looking for…the service, the leadership, the scholarship. It also helped with my research ability.

“It wasn’t just the service or the volunteering. There are many aspects that are important when you’re applying for scholarships. You have to go above and beyond just a 4.0 GPA.”

When applying for scholarships, it’s also important to start early. Heather Johnson, Phi Theta Kappa’s Director of Scholarship Programs, says starting early and thoroughly reading the application’s purpose and instructions allows applicants more time to think through answers and provide a quality response.

“Without a doubt, the majority of our scholarship winners begin their applications shortly after the scholarship applications open, which is far in advance of the published deadline,” Johnson said.

Homonchuk plans to major in industrial and labor relations with an emphasis in global health and public policy. She also plans to pursue her master’s degree from either Stanford or Columbia.

“You always have to dream big,” she said. “To get something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done before.”

Success Story: Mark Svennson

Mark Svennson
Alpha Phi Sigma Chapter
Rockland Community College
New York
Phi Theta Kappa Students at the White House - Mark Svennson, middle

Phi Theta Kappa Students at the White House - Mark Svennson, middle

The Community College Times

Read Mark's story, Phi Theta Kappa’s recipe for success on the Community College Times web site.

When I reflect back on my successes over the past two years, one of the greatest moments was my admittance into Phi Theta Kappa's Alpha Phi Sigma Chapter at Rockland Community College.

Fast forward three years, where I am now a rising senior at Georgetown University. To this day no other organization has influenced my development and pushed me to do more and become a better individual than Phi Theta Kappa. Phi Theta Kappa empowered me to succeed.

When I enrolled at community college in fall 2008, I was hesitant, unsure, and unwilling to fully embrace my potential both inside and outside the classroom. After becoming a member of Phi Theta Kappa, the personal character transformation I underwent was nothing short of remarkable.

There is no doubt that the values, support, and collaboration fostered through my involvement in Phi Theta Kappa helped guide me on the path to success. If you are skeptical, picture this: In less than a year after joining Phi Theta Kappa, I went on to be named by Phi Theta Kappa, in collaboration with USA TODAY, to the elite 20-member 2010 ALL-USA Community College Academic Team. In addition, I was named New York State's New Century Scholar. Furthermore, I was selected as student speaker at my college's commencement.

The most rewarding experience for me, which really made me appreciate the greatness of Phi Theta Kappa, came when I received my acceptance letter to the university of my dreams—Georgetown. If that were not enough, the icing on the cake came this past fall during my first semester at Georgetown. As the result of my academic and extracurricular successes in Phi Theta Kappa, I received a personal invitation from Dr. Jill Biden, Second Lady of the United States, and participated in the first-ever White House Summit on Community Colleges in October.

I truly believe the best investment one can make in life is through education. Phi Theta Kappa's commitment towards ensuring student success is nothing short of inspirational. When you ask yourself 'How does Phi Theta Kappa Empower Others?" simply look and you will see it all around you in the faces of the millions of lives touched by Phi Theta Kappa.

Success Story: Sarah Louise Oliveri

Sarah Louise Oliveri
Chi Omega Chapter
Cuyahoga Community College - Western Campus

Empowerment is an understatement to describe how Phi Theta Kappa has helped shape, change, and direct my life. I started college at a community college when I was a lost 23 year old with very limited self respect, and only had a GED. As a survivor of childhood sexual assault, I had a very hard time seeing potential in myself or the world around me. Someone special saw something alive inside of me - my history professor who is our Phi Theta Kappa advisor. She ignited in me a confidence and budding self respect I never expected to have. I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, elected chapter President, won a Coca-Cola scholarship, and placed on the All Ohio 3rd Academic Team. Our chapter was also recognized as a the top 25 chapter in Leadership and Service, and I was recognized as one of the top chapter presidents. Phi Theta Kappa empowered me so much that it allowed me to go from a high school drop out to a beginning Teaching Fellow at Kent State University where I am set to start my PhD (fully funded) in August. Without Phi Theta Kappa, I would have never met my mentor and friend, advisor Mary Hovenac. Without Phi Theta Kappa, I would have never found me.

Success Story: Barbara Teed

Barbara Teed
Alpha Kappa Alpha Chapter
Normandale Community College
Barbara Teed on the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony

Barbara Teed on the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony

Barbara Teed on the Red Carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony

Lights, Camera, Action! There I was, a journalist from the Midwest, in Hollywood on the Red Carpet of the Academy Awards, interviewing Oscar winners. How can this be possible? Because of Phi Theta Kappa.

Long before I covered the Academy Awards, I covered campus news for my community college newspaper, earning investigative awards. I had gone back to college after raising five children and faced many obstacles to campus life: financial insecurity, non-traditional age, unsupportive family members, and a son born with Down syndrome still dependent on me. I entered Normandale Community College in Bloomington, Minnesota, on a Pell Grant, work-study, and a Jeannette Rankin Scholarship.

The president of Alpha Kappa Alpha Chapter would stop by and chat while I was working in the Student Center, encouraging me to join Phi Theta Kappa. I wasn't interested in campus student life; I was shy, middle-aged, and sure that students wouldn't accept me. I finally gave in to his pleas and was inducted in February 2004.

Our advisor, Linda Tetzlaff, encouraged me to run for chapter office. I wasn't interested because I didn't think younger students would vote for me, but I was elected Vice President of Public Relations and discovered Phi Theta Kappa to be one of the most diverse organizations I have ever encountered. My age was not an obstacle in Phi Theta Kappa. Next, our advisor encouraged me to run for regional office. I overcame my hesitation about speaking in front of students and was elected Minn-Wi-Kota Regional President. I received a Coca-Cola Leaders of Promise scholarship.

In 2006, I entered Phi Theta Kappa's USA TODAY Case Study Challenge, thinking, "how can I compete?" When I received my winning award in front of 4,000 cheering students, I overcame another obstacle, comparing my work to others.

At the end of my community college education, my advisor again encouraged me, this time to apply for Phi Theta Kappa transfer scholarships. I wasn't interested because a four-year college degree was not part of my family system and, besides, only traditional aged students ever receive those. But because of the validation and encouragement I received from Phi Theta Kappa, I submitted my applications.

As I graduated in my high honors regalia, the college president asked me to stand in front of the audience as she recognized my scholarship achievements:

  • First Team, National All-USA Community College Academic Team
  • All-State Community College Academic Team
  • New Century Scholar, State of Minnesota
  • Guistwhite National Scholarship
  • Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship

I was one of only three Phi Theta Kappa students in the nation to receive honors in all of those categories. And what's interesting: We were non-traditional students.

I entered The New School in New York City to study journalism , and in my senior year lived in an 1800s apartment in Greenwich Village. After graduating with a bachelor's degree with honors in 2010, I interned at a Minneapolis-St. Paul newspaper and applied to cover the Academy Awards. Nearly 5,000 media representatives apply each year, and 254 are accepted to be backstage interviewing Oscar winners as they step off the stage with their gold statue. I did not think I would be one of the privileged few but I was selected to be on the Red Carpet. The Academy liked my work, and I was asked to go back for the 2011 Awards ceremony.

In 2010, I received the Jack Kent Cooke Continuing Graduate scholarship to work on my master's degree. I am currently enrolled at Hamline University Graduate School majoring in writing and journalism.

None of this would have been possible without Phi Theta Kappa.

Success Story: Tina Howell

Tina Howell
Beta Theta Chi Chapter
Grossmont College

I turned 47 on July 9, 2011, and I can honestly say that Phi Theta Kappa has empowered me to not only decide to work towards a degree but also to move even higher and obtain my bachelor’s. Phi Theta Kappa has empowered me to take chances and to speak up, where once I would have kept silent. The Five Star Competitive Edge has helped me to formulate and implement proven leadership skills. The biggest empowerment that Phi Theta Kappa has given me is pride in my accomplishments and a true commitment to strive further than my own backyard. With Phi Theta Kappa I have a strong network of peers to cheer me on. I believe that the empowerment not only comes from walking through life’s difficulties, but walking with others who are striving for the same goal. That is the true source of Phi Theta’s Kappa’s empowerment. Your peers don’t just tell you “congratulations,” they grow with you and help to build a road to success.

Success Story: Lennesha Elizabeth Morgan

Lennesha Elizabeth Morgan
Beta Omicron Sigma Chapter
H. Lavity Stoutt Community College
British Virgin Islands

The opportunities as a member were endless. Wearing the Key pin and the recognitions regalia made me feel empowered and recognized for my hard work. I understood that it is okay to be smart, and I also received scholarship offers from two universities! In Fall 2011 I will attend Texas Christian University. If it wasn’t for Phi Theta Kappa, I wouldn’t have this scholarship. I love all that Phi Theta Kappa has done for me.

Success Story: Shela Hidalgo

Shela Hidalgo
Omicron Beta Chapter
Mesa Community College

This year I was a keynote speaker at the Community College National Center for Community Engagement and named a CCNCCE Top 20 National Civic Engagement Leader. My project, "Hope for Our Future," which involves teaching about safe sex and unplanned pregnancies, began as our chapter’s Honors in Action project. In my speech I talked about the mentorship I received and what I have been able to accomplish as a Phi Theta Kappa member.