WINCHESTER — When she was 30 years old Monica Botwinick decided it was time to go back to school.
She was living in Oakland with her three children, Donovan, Margot and Daphne, and her husband Jeremy.
Botwinick dropped out of high school her junior year and by the time she was 21 she was a single mom struggling to make ends meet.
When she met her husband they had two more children, made the move to Southern Oregon to be closer to family, and she decided to enroll at Umpqua Community College to get her general education diploma.
As soon as she got her GED, she went to the advisers’ office and enrolled in college courses.
She originally wanted to go into cosmetology, but Roseburg Beauty College shuttered its doors in April 2018 due to a lack of funding.
So Botwinick thought about what else she might want to do.
For years, she’d affectionately been called “Momica” by her friends and peers, because of her mothering and caring nature.
She’s also had three of her own children and some traumatic experiences in the delivery room. When she was at home recovering and taking care of her children, she befriended moms online and notices that a lot of new moms have similar issues.
“They feel like they have no one to talk to,” Botwinick said.
But she didn’t want to wait for a college degree before she started helping people.
“I wanted to make a difference on campus and be involved,” Botwinick said.
She is president of the Queer Student Advocacy, a five-star officer of Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society for community college students, and the public relations officer of the debate club and has held many other roles on campus.
Botwinick was chosen by UCC staff to become a peer mentor and for the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship, which will pay $40,000 of her tuition at Portland State University.
The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation received more than 1,500 applications. Botwinick was the only Oregon college student selected for the scholarship and one of 61 finalists nationwide.
As a peer mentor, she noticed the average age of UCC students is 29.
“I can relate to them,” she said. “I know how crappy it is to work in a grocery store or in retail.”
She also joined staff members and administrators to lobby for more funding for community colleges.
Botwinick will graduate with a 3.89 GPA.
This fall, she’ll start working toward her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in women’s studies at Portland State University to become a postpartum mental health professional.
She’ll live in a dorm room for a few days a week and come back to Oakland to see her husband and children when she doesn’t have classes.
“I have a good support system in place,” she said. “It’ll be hard, but I want to be a role model for them. I want to show them you can hit bumps and still be successful.”
While Margot, 4, and Daphne, 2, haven’t noticed much of their mom going back to school, Donovan, 10, has been very proud of his mom’s accomplishments.
“I heard him talking about a scholarship I won while he was playing Fortnite,” Botwinick said.
The family will stay in Oakland and Botwinick hopes to find work in Douglas County when she gets her degree.
Botwinick will be one of more than 500 students who will receive a degree, certificate or diploma at Friday’s commencement ceremony at the Swanson Amphitheatre at Umpqua Community College.
She is one of 157 people to receive an Associate of Arts Oregon Transfer degree. UCC will also hand out 18 Associate of Science degrees, 18 Associate of General Studies degrees, 119 Associate of Applied Science degrees, 75 certificates, 15 pathway certificates, 164 General Education Diplomas and two adult high school diplomas.
Friday’s ceremony will begin at 6 p.m. and will be a combined ceremony this year for all graduates.