Tompkins Cortland Community College

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Vanessa Wikel

Finding her own pathVanessa Wikel

Pathways Scholar Vanessa Wikel is honest in a way that is uncommon and liberating.

She will tell you she does not like to be around people as much as college requires. She will tell you she would prefer life in a hut "in the boonies near a waterfall and flowers."

And she will tell you what really drives her, "I am going to school for something that is both how I live and think our country should live, which is in a sustainable way."

She is a Pathways scholar and a non-traditional student who worked in retail before finally finding her calling. She is most comfortable in nature and overcame a childhood that left her with social anxiety, but also a powerful conviction to remain true to herself and her beliefs. She has struggled, but found the resolve to not simply hope for a meaningful future, but also to actively pursue its challenges.

"I (found out about Pathways) when I went on the Tompkins Cortland website and looked up scholarships because I knew without it I would not be able to go back to school. My drive to better myself was what led me there."

"In summary, I chose to go back to school because I lost my full-time retail job and while trying to dig myself out of a deep hole of repression, depression, and the sense of utter hopelessness, I realized that while I was waiting for other things that are most dearest to me in my life to happen, I deserved a good education."

As a Pathways scholar, she receives support from a full-time student advocate and also a designated Pathways advocate.

"The staff is very willing to work with students who may be unable to make the meetings in person, and Alexis is not only there to help make sure your stay at Tompkins Cortland is successful, but she’s a great ear and shoulder to cry on if your life gets crazy and you need to vent. Her drive for students to succeed is not based on economic gain, it’s based on who she is as a woman and a being. Her own life experiences have given her this drive to help students, and that’s a beautiful thing."

And with the support of Pathways, the Foundation, and the college – and the considerable work required of a motivated, passionate student – Vanessa plans to use her education in a manner consistent with her beliefs. Naturally.