'I love HCC'
'I want it on my transcript. I want it to say that I went here, because this place changed my life. It really did.'
As a high school student looking forward to college, Kiana Estime faced many of the same challenges others do.
For one thing, her family didn't have a lot of money.
"I'm a first-generation, low-income student, so I've had a lot of financial obstacles," she said. "And trying to understand how to shape my educational journey has been very difficult, because my parents did not go to college."
Estime, 20, is now a student in her first semester at Mount Holyoke College, where she is working toward her bachelor's degree in anthropology.
She got there, though, by way of HCC.
She told the story of her educational journey to more than 70 guidance counselors from area high schools today during a series of information sessions and workshops organized by the Admissions Office at Holyoke Community College.
"I'm so happy to be here," said Estime. "I love HCC, and I hope that it comes off that way.
Estime was a senior at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington with a 3.8 GPA when she was accepted to Smith College. Excited, she opened the financial aid letter and, deflated, realized she could not afford it.
"I was like, I have nowhere to go," she recalled.
A mentor from Great Barrington whose sister had attended HCC introduced her to Irma Medina, coordinator of Pathways, an HCC college transfer program.
"With the Pathways Program, I realized that I could have contact with all the Five Colleges," she said. "There was already a program here that laid out the steps that I needed to take to transfer, and that's what I was looking for - a place where I knew I could be supported as a first-generation, low-income college student."
Estime moved to Amherst for the shorter commute and found that HCC suited her in ways she had never imagined.
She learned financial literacy from advisers in the Financial Aid office.
"I spent a lot of time there," she said. "They helped me understand loans and the meaning of credit and budgeting and all of those things that I didn't think important until I got to HCC."
She learned the proper way to write an essay and took advantage of tutors in the college Writing Center.
"The resources here at HCC are phenomenal," she said. "I talk all the time at Mount Holyoke College about how well HCC prepared me for this type of education."
She was also drawn to HCC's Honors classes.
"I really wanted to be pushed," she said. "I wanted to know I could go into an elite education and thrive."
And she is.
"I felt very prepared leaving here," she said. "I'm actually in a situation where I'm in classes at Mount Holyoke and feeling like it's easier than the classes I took at HCC."
Through Medina, Estime learned about the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship. She applied and got it. The scholarship pays up to $40,000 a year for three years.
"That's really allowed me to take control of my education," she said.
Estime spent two years at HCC but she transferred to Mount Holyoke College beore she earned her associate degree. She is amending that now, she said, through a process called "reverse transfer," which allows students to transfer credits from their new school back to HCC.
"Then, I'll have an associate degree from HCC," she said. "I want it on my transcript. I want it to say that I went here because this place changed my life. It really did."
STORY and PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: Kiana Estime '17 talks to area high school guidance counselors during an Admissions event at HCC. (Thumbnail) President Christina Royal and Kiana Estime '17