Natalie Valentin-Espiet is the 2019 recipient of the J. Njogu Kararu and Eben C. Morgan scholarship.
This scholarship is awarded to a student in good standing in a major in the College of Arts and Sciences who has had to persevere through many obstacles in pursuing a degree. Part of the application required students to write an essay telling their story of diligent and persistent pursuit of their educational goals.
This is Natalie’s essay telling her story:
My name is Natalie Valentin-Espiet, and I transferred to Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in the fall of 2018. I am enrolled as an English major with a Creative Writing minor, in the interest of pursuing a career as an English teacher. Before I attended NEIU, I studied at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao (UPRH). I am applying for the J. Njogu Kararu and Eben C. Morgan Scholarship as I have persevered in the face of academic challenges and have continued in my pursuit of education.
From an early age, I was faced with challenges that complicated my educational experiences. When I was six years old, my mom, who was raising me as a single parent, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Throughout the rest of my elementary and secondary education, she went through stages of remission and recurrence. With the support of my mother’s friends, who often took care of me when my mother was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation therapy, I had sufficient stability to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to my studies. I did this, in large part, because I wanted to relieve my mother of any more stress that could be produced by a concern for my future. Therefore, I made sure I succeeded academically, so she could be proud of me and not have to worry about that facet of my life. During my senior year of high school, my mother was diagnosed with brain cancer. This was when my responsibilities truly started to mount. My mother could no longer drive, so I had to get my driver’s license and drive myself to school, get our groceries and help with other household chores, and take care of her.
When I started college in UPRH, I first got accepted as a Biology major, as I originally thought about pursuing a career as a doctor. To this day, I am proud of the fact that, within my first semester, I understood that this was not the path for me. I had always had a passion for the English language, and I finally came to the realization that my future, where I would thoroughly thrive, was as an English major. As I was coming to this realization about myself, my responsibilities were increasing even further as my mother got progressively sicker and began to struggle with depression. I had to be her caretaker in even more ways than before. I administered her medicines, took her to her doctor’s appointments, and made sure all other household responsibilities were met. As this was going on, I kept up my grades and made sure to flourish as much as possible. Even more than in high school, I dedicated myself to making sure I invested the time that I had available to succeeding academically. Being my mother’s primary caretaker didn’t allow me the opportunity to invest time in extracurricular activities, as other students may have had the chance to do, so I made sure to put in the effort to get straight As. By my second semester at UPRH, I was a straight A student.
At the beginning of the spring semester of 2017, my mother passed away after various hospitalizations due to infection. This was, naturally, a big shock in my life. I had lived with my mother all my life, and now she was gone. I had to live alone. Financially, my dad, who lived in Chicago since I was around the age of 11, was able to support me. Thankfully, he was able to make sure I didn’t lose the house I lived in and could continue to study at UPRH. After the loss of my mother, I knew that I needed some emotional support to make sure I could continue to persevere in my studies and not give up because of the events that had transpired. Therefore, I began seeing the university’s social worker. She helped support me during this difficult time and reminded me of why I was pursuing higher education.
Originally, I had planned to stay in Puerto Rico until I completed my B.A. in Teaching English as a Second Language. I was so settled on this path that, by the time the 2017 fall semester started, I applied for a tutoring job at the Upward Bound Program in my university. This program is geared toward low-income public school students and encourages these students to pursue higher education through enhancing their academic experiences in public school. As a college student pursuing an education degree, I was looking for opportunities to apply the knowledge I had gained throughout my academic career, so I could gain further skills in my field. I was hired to work as an English and math tutor, and the job really reinforced my love for my chosen profession. Unfortunately, it was during this semester that Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. After witnessing this event, the storm winds, and the lack of electricity and water, I knew that I needed to make a change in my life. In order to continue to succeed, I understood that I needed more support than what I had living on my own in Puerto Rico. Furthermore, I knew, as well, that I needed more time to process and grieve the loss of my mother. Due to this, I took a risk and decided to move to Chicago with my father and take the rest of the academic year off.
It was definitely a transition process to move from what was familiar to me in Puerto Rico, my friends, my school, my home, and move to a new environment, but it was what was best for me at the time. It was thanks to this move that I made it to NEIU. At NEIU, I have continued to thrive academically and continue with my studies. My experiences at NEIU as an English major have been thoroughly engaging and fulfilling. The professors are excellent, and their passion for their work is evident in their enthusiasm in class. They inspire me even further to continue in my pursuit of being an English teacher. Not only have the academic experiences at NEIU helped me, but the job opportunities have also helped me on my path to becoming a teacher. I work as a TRIO Student Support Services writing tutor, and, through it, I am able to use my academic skills in a practical manner and acquire more skills for my role as a future teacher.
Although I have faced challenges on my path to academic success, I have always worked hard to persevere and thrive academically in order to continue to do so in my chosen profession. Being the recipient of this scholarship would greatly help me continue in my path to success. As someone interested in continuing my higher education with an M.A. in Secondary Education and a Ph.D. in American Literature, being the recipient of this scholarship would greatly help me lower the cost of achieving these goals. I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to apply for this scholarship. Thank you for your time and consideration.