When Changing a Story Changes a Family

If you had told Ebony Nava five years ago that she would be studying biochemistry at the exclusive Wellesley College, she never would have believed you. But Phi Theta Kappa and its benefactors have changed not only her story, but those of her son and siblings as well.

In a few short years, Nava went from being a 20-year-old homeless, single mother with a second-grade education to being one of the most outstanding community college scholars in the United States. Having left home at 17, she worked multiple jobs trying to support herself and her son and eventually got custody of her six younger siblings due to educational neglect. That’s when Nava realized she would need an education in order to provide for her family and set an example.

Now she is in the process of resettling her family in Massachusetts since transferring to Wellesley College from Kentucky, getting accustomed to her own academic schedule while making sure the children are on track in their new schools. Nava is contemplating teaching after earning her bachelor’s degree. She is preparing for the GRE and will eventually apply to medical school. She dreams of someday working with Doctors Without Borders.

It’s a position she never imagined herself being in. Just four year ago, those dreams seemed a world away from her day-to-day life and poor educational background.

“I had no transcripts, no record of standardized testing, and I had just received custody of my six younger siblings,” Nava said. “While I could read, I lived my life trying to hid a huge secret — I was dumb, or at least that’s what I genuinely believed.”

A family counselor helping her to navigate poverty and parenting saw the potential and encouraged her to earn her GED and attend college.

“I was ashamed because I couldn’t even help with one of my siblings’ third grade arithmetic problems, and I thought that receiving a GED would be a permanent brand of failure,” Nava said. “But our family counselor insisted that instead it would open the door to higher education.”

After studying hard and receiving her GED with honors in 2011, Nava applied to Bluegrass Community and Technical College and found instructors who were encouraging and challenging.

“I began to believe in myself and in my ability,” she said. “I was inspired by my unexpected success to continue the pattern of academic excellence.”

Nava earned a 4.0 grade point average and membership in Phi Theta Kappa. In 2013 she was selected as a member of the All-USA Community College Academic Team and as the New Century Scholar for her state. After completing two associate degrees, Nava received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke scholarship worth up to $120,000, which made it possible for her to transfer to Wellesley.

Ebony Nava’s inspiring story continues on page 12 in the 2016 issue of Visionary magazine. Learn more about how you can support members like Ebony through the Phi Theta Kappa Foundation.

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