We know that students who fully engage in their education both inside and outside of the classroom experience greater success in persevering to graduation and in their careers. Research has consistently shown that college students who get involved build their networks and community, gain valuable skills and accolades for their resumes, discover other passions and skills and stay focused on their goals. We are able to see that demonstrated daily by our own students at Waubonsee Community College. It is particularly evident at the end of the academic year.

For example, Waubonsee STEM scholar Hillary Smith’s passion for science is taking her to NASA this summer. Smith was selected to travel to NASA’s Glenn Research Center to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholar’s Project. During the trip, Smith will be one of 348 community college students from across the country to participate in the five-week program, which culminates in a four-day on-site visit to the Glenn Research Center. At the Glenn Research Center, the students connect with NASA engineers and others as they learn about careers in engineering and science, Mars exploration and prototype development. Smith plans a career in astrobiology and is also the recipient of a National Science Foundation funded STEM scholarship.

And Smith is not our only STEM scholar who is benefitting from experiences outside of the classroom. Four Waubonsee students competed in this year’s Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference STEM poster competition at Elgin Community College, and our own Nicholas Barrios placed second in the Biology category for his poster entitled “Various Antimicrobial Agents Compared for Antimicrobial Inhibition Using Several Bacterial Species.” Poster competitions such as these empower students to demonstrate and present their scientific research to a broader audience, something that becomes important as they continue in their academic and professional careers.

Waubonsee’s auto programs have long been respected for their level of student engagement and success. This spring, seven students from the Auto Body Repair and Automotive Technology programs competed in the SkillsUSA Illinois State Leadership and Skills Conference in Springfield. Melanie Thomas placed first in Automotive Refinishing Technology and qualified to compete in the national championship, which takes place later this month. In recent years, Waubonsee students have won first place in the national championship three times and twelve times in the state championship in categories including Collision Repair Technology, Automotive Refinishing Technology, CNC Technician, Criminal Justice, and Automotive Service Technology.

Waubonsee baseball player Samyr Santos was recently named the Waubonsee Male Athlete of the Year. Santos holds the college’s home run record and was ranked sixth nationally among all NJCAA Division III players in that category. Softball player Courtni Neubauer was chosen as the Waubonsee Female Athlete of the Year after she helped lead the Chiefs to the NJCAA Division II National Tournament for the first time in the college’s history. Neubauer was in the top-10 nationally in four categories and finished second in the nation in home runs and stolen bases.

These stories illustrate just a few of the success stories at community colleges across the nation. In addition to quality affordable education, community college students have access to a full range of experiences outside of the classroom that contribute to their success as they enter the workforce or continue their education.

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