Scholars Find Second Chance, Silver Lining in Phi Theta Kappa

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Dropping out of high school. Being a single parent to two sons. Losing your home and belongings in a flood. Losing your arm in a car accident. Any one of these things would be reason enough for some people to postpone — or even stop altogether — the pursuit of a higher education. Jessica Troxel faced them all, and in May she will graduate Magna Cum Laude from Ivy Tech Community College-Bloomington in Indiana.

New Century Scholar Jessica Troxel with Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director and CEO Dr. Rod Risley

Troxel is also the New Century Scholar for Indiana. She recently spoke on behalf of the other scholars to college administrators and higher education leaders during Phi Theta Kappa’s Presidents Breakfast, hosted during the annual conference of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Washington, D.C., April 5-8.

Seated, from left: Michelle Davis; Beau Davis; James Gagnon, USA TODAY National Sales Manager; and Courtney Taylor, Phi Theta Kappa's Annual Giving/Alumni Relations Coordinator. Standing, from left: Dr. Cary Israel, President of Collin College; Heather Johnson, Phi Theta Kappa's Director of Scholarship Programs; Dr. Rod Risley, Phi Theta Kappa Executive Director and CEO; Dr. Nancy Rieves, Phi Theta Kappa Foundation Executive Director and CEO; and Debra West Risley.

“Honestly, all of the opportunities, awards and recognition make no sense to me in my mind,” she said. “I feel like I’m not doing astounding things; I feel like I’m being a mom, a student, a girlfriend, a member of my community — a human. That’s all.”

Troxel is one of 51 community college students from the United States, Canada and American Samoa named a Coca-Cola New Century Scholar. These scholars are the highest-scoring students from each state on Phi Theta Kappa’s Fall Common Scholarship Application.

Each scholar receives a $2,000 scholarship. The program is sponsored by the Coca-Cola Foundation, the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation, Phi Theta Kappa and the AACC. More than 1,700 students from more than 900 community colleges were nominated for this honor.

“My favorite part about it is that it is a wonderful demonstration to my two sons, Zach and Taylor, of what it means to work hard and be rewarded for it,” Troxel said.  “The New Century Scholar does not just look at academics, but also involvement on campus as well as in the community. I want to inspire them!”

Troxel is a single mother of two sons. She dropped out of high school and admits that she didn’t always make good choices. Still, with the encouragement of her boss, she got her GED when she was 27 and enrolled at Ivy Tech in 2008. Soon after though, her home was flooded. And three months later, she lost her arm in a car accident.

A year later, in August 2009, she returned to Ivy Tech and began classes.

“I felt it was important to pick up the pieces and be the role model I always wanted to be for my two young children, so I did,” she said. “There is good in every bad situation, and I needed to find my silver lining.”

Troxel received an invitation to become a member of Phi Theta Kappa after her first semester, but the cost of membership and a general lack of knowledge about the Society kept her from accepting. When she finally did become a member in the spring of 2013, it was only because of the scholarships offered and because she’d heard it would look good on her resume.

“What I did not know was the abundance of opportunity it held,” she said. “The cost of membership means nothing compared to the scholarships and opportunities it has provided.”

Now, she is an officer in her Phi Theta Kappa chapter. She also recently became a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for her county, which is a volunteer position as an officer of the juvenile court. She is majoring in Social Work and was recently able to travel with her college to Guatemala for a service learning course.

Troxel will also be traveling as an International Scholar Laureate nominee to Australia and New Zealand under the Delegation on International Business and Entrepreneurship May 24-June 3.

“No matter what life throws at you, you can dream, achieve and inspire,” she said. “Somewhere along the way, I found hope and courage; I found hope and courage in others.”

Michelle Davis also addressed higher education leaders during the Closing Plenary Brunch, also held during the recent AACC convention. Davis is a member of the 2014 All-USA Community College Academic Team and was asked to speak on behalf of the team.

The program is sponsored by Follett Higher Education Group and presented by USA TODAY, with additional support from the AACC and Phi Theta Kappa. Twenty scholarships of $2,500 each are awarded.

She is also the first recipient of a scholarship established in memory of Dr. David Pierce, former AACC President and Phi Theta Kappa Board of Directors Vice Chair. Davis is a business major at Collin College in Texas.

“Being named a member of the All-USA Academic Team is such a great honor,” she said. “It is evidence that my service, dedication and accomplishments are acknowledged and appreciated, and all my hard work paid off.”

Davis was born in the United States but grew up in Brazil. She dropped out of college and returned to the U.S. to work. She then got married and became a stay-at-home mom to two children. In 2011, though, she enrolled at Collin College.

She is president of her Phi Theta Kappa chapter; president and team captain of the Political Science Club and Mock Trial Team; and a senator in the Student Government Association.

“Being part of Phi Theta Kappa is without a doubt the highlight of my journey through school,” Davis said. “While developing my leadership skills, I made lifetime friendships with like-minded individuals and served my college, my peers and my community through a breadth of projects.

“Participating in Phi Theta Kappa programs constantly reminds me that, as I serve others, I receive much more than I give, which is the true power of service.”