Amie Croteau and her mother-in-law Judith Croteau enrolled at Reading Area Community College (RACC) in Pennsylvania for different reasons: one wanted to reenter the workforce after seven years; the other needed to rediscover her purpose.
What they each gained, though, was so similar: a supportive network of peers; the confidence to continue their education; and scholarships from Phi Theta Kappa to make it possible. Amie was named Pennsylvania’s New Century Transfer Scholar in 2018, and Judith was named a Coca-Cola Academic Team Silver Scholar in 2019. Both were named to the All-Pennsylvania Academic Team.
Amie, 38, and Judith, 58, moved to Pennsylvania from Nevada in 2015 when Amie’s husband received a job offer he couldn’t pass up. Amie had been a stay-at-home mom to her two children for seven years, but now in a new state, she was ready to reenter the workforce.
“I felt lost and wanted to help my husband with providing for our family, but I didn’t feel equipped to do so,” Amie said. “RACC was a great starting point to learn new skills and feel hopeful about my family’s future.”
Life in Nevada had been different for Judith. While she’d always wanted a college degree, she had instead raised her son, her sister’s three children, and four of her brother’s children at different points in their lives. After 16 years she had worked her way up and was a High Limit Salon Supervisor in the largest resort in Las Vegas.
“I worked a great job,” she said. “I met celebrities, movers and shakers, millionaires, and the jet-set. I was independent, traveled, and even owned my own small business.”
Judith’s knees were beginning to go, though, and the pain was debilitating. When her son got the job in Pennsylvania, he said he wouldn’t take it unless she came too. So, she moved across the country.
Once there, Judith was diagnosed with Raynaud’s disease, a rare disorder that causes blood vessels to narrow when you’re cold or feeling stressed, leading to the affected areas to turn white or blue. The cold Pennsylvania weather didn’t help.
“My life had changed so drastically, and I was not doing well physically, mentally, or emotionally,” she said. “One day, my daughter-in-law asked what I would do if I could choose anything. I answered, ‘Go back to school and get my degree.’ ”
Ten minutes later, Amie was driving Judith to RACC. A few hours later, thanks to grants and the RACC Foundation Scholarship program, she was a college student.
“RACC and the incredibly caring people there saved my life and gave me a new purpose,” Judith said.
Amie and Judith both made the most of their time at RACC. Amie had attended college classes right after high school in Nevada, but at 18 she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. Now, as she enrolled in information technology classes, she also served as the webmaster for the college newspaper and the public relations officer for her PTK chapter.
She received certification from the RACC student leadership program as well. Focusing on others in service and scholarship helped her grow beyond the classroom. Through her PTK Honors in Action Project, she rekindled a love for managing projects and researching an idea to solve an issue greater than herself.
“I felt that in order to really gain more than just skills but tangible experience, I needed to get some real-world time in,” Amie said. “My participation in all these organizations provided not only fun moments for my college experience but moments that allowed for me to think outside of myself.”
Amie and Judith often worked together on projects. Judith also joined the college newspaper staff and wrote several articles before serving as secretary/treasurer. She joined RACC’s Leadership Development and Honors Programs, and she served as president of the PTK chapter.
Judith even received a Distinguished Member award and was recognized both regionally and internationally.
“Helping each other, helping ourselves, learning, and giving back — this has probably given me some of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” she said.
Neither Amie nor Judith started at RACC with the plan of transferring and getting a bachelor’s degree; but, as they became more involved on campus, learned about the opportunities available to them, and grew more confident, continuing their education seemed more doable.
Amie’s advisors encouraged her to apply for PTK’s fall scholarships in 2018 — it was her last-ditch effort to continue her education. She was named to the All-Pennsylvania Academic Team and received two years of tuition to a state college, and she was named Pennsylvania’s New Century Transfer Scholar and received a $2,250 scholarship.
Next, a teacher suggested she apply for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which awards up to $40,000 a year for up to three years. She received it too, and she’s now at Pennsylvania State University’s Penn State Berks campus.
“Financially, these scholarships have paved the way for me to finish my education,” Amie said. “Also, winning these scholarships gave me proof that I am worth an investment. I was able to believe that if this many people believe in me, I should believe in myself.”
Amie hasn’t slowed down at Penn State. She recently led a multi-campus coding team to finish in the top three of a competition that spanned 26 college campuses. She participates in various entrepreneurship workshops on campus, including the Penn State Idea Test lab, and she sings in the chamber choir.
She’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in information science and technology with an option in people, business, and society. Ultimately, she wants to lead a team of developers to create software and pursue a master’s degree.
“I was blessed to be able to raise my kids through several of their formative years,” Amie said. “So, it is exciting to show them that you can learn something completely brand new, be good at it, and pursue an education.”
Judith felt she had nothing to lose when she applied for PTK’s fall scholarships last fall. She was named to the 2019 All-Pennsylvania Academic Team — earning two years of tuition to a state school — and was also named to the Coca-Cola Academic Team as a Silver Scholar, receiving a $1,250 scholarship.
She’s now at Kutztown University studying both business management and accounting. She plans to return to RACC as a teacher.
“It is the best thing in the world to belong, to be alive, to share stories, to reflect, and to learn,” Judith said. “I am truly blessed to be part of the college community and a PTK member. It has been an amazing ride.”
PTK’s Fall Scholarship Application is now open! The deadline is 5 p.m. CT on Friday, October 25. Apply now.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation is accepting applications for its Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship through November 20. Apply today.