Class of 2014 Success Stories: Firelands student earns degree at 37

Nicki Chavarria serves as inspiration to daughters

Nicki Chavarria

By Dean Schnurr

Nicki Chavarria’s path to a college diploma was certainly not typical. As a 37-year-old student, many would think her chances of success were less than average, but every morning she woke up for class she had two great reasons to push forward—her daughters. On Dec. 19, she will graduate from BGSU Firelands with a degree in social work.

Chavarria graduated from high school in 1996 and excelled in academics. However, her family did not support the pursuit of education and her parents never finished high school.

“I come from a very hard working family,” said Chavarria. “When I graduated from high school, going to college was not an option. My father said I was going to get a job.  We had a work first philosophy at home.”

Life moved on and she seemed content. Along her path she found a long-term job and married, but her greatest accomplishment and joy came through the birth of her two daughters, Gabby and Samantha.

“My children are the world to me and my goals are always set with them in mind,” said Chavarria.

Chavarria’s life was destined to change, however, after she got divorced and lost her job of 10 years.

The economy was in decline and quality jobs for high school graduates were nearly nonexistent.  Chavarria was in a difficult position and knew she had to do something to support her family.

“My family really encouraged me to go back to school and I had a friend at Firelands who really pushed for it too,” said Chavarria, who assumed she would never be back in a classroom after high school.

After being out of school for nearly 15 years, and while single handedly raising two children, Chavarria decided to enroll at BGSU Firelands as a full-time student. At first undecided on a career path, she eventually selected social work and has not looked back since.

“I love the human interaction aspects of social work,” said Chavarria.  “Hearing people’s unique stories and being able to help them intrigues me.”

According to one faculty member, social work is a natural fit for Chavarria. Julie Didelot, a lecturer in sociology, had Chavarria in several of her classes and was also an adviser for the Humanity Organized for Peace through Education (HOPE) student organization while Chavarria was an officer of the group.

“She cares deeply about social issues and is passionate about others who are in need. It says a lot about her character,” said Didelot.

Didelot believes that Chavarria was a true asset in the classroom and that she has provided “profound and strong advice,” which has changed classroom techniques for future students. In one of the entry-level classes with many traditionally aged students, Chavarria helped to create an atmosphere in which others looked forward to the class.

“She naturally brings people together in subtle ways,” said Didelot.

As a HOPE officer, Chavarria is also credited with contributing to one of the most active periods of the organization. Under her leadership, the group collected coats, mittens and diapers for children, participated in highway cleanup efforts, and hosted a conference to examine issues related to nuclear power plants on the Great Lakes.

Chavarria successfully immersed herself in college life, but it was always balanced with her commitments to her daughters.

“Time management skills were critical, but I am sure there were occasions when my children wanted me to spend time with them and I could not,” said Chavarria.

To compensate for lost attention and time, Chavarria would often try to include her daughters, age 11 and 13, in her studies. She would share her work and ask the girls if it sounded good.

“She does that a lot,” said Chavarria’s oldest daughter Gabby. “It’s nice though. I want to help mom as much as I can. She works hard for me and my sister so we can have nice things and I love her for that.”

Chavarria credits her family and parents for their support through her college years, but few comparisons can be drawn between Chavarria’s childhood home in which the “work first mentality” prevailed and the home which she has carefully crafted today.

“My girls know they are going to go to college after high school. I’ve instilled in them the importance of education and how a college degree will open doors for them,” said Chavarria.

Chavarria is anxious to walk down the aisle at commencement and receive her bachelor’s degree in social work. She will be the first person in her family to earn a college degree.  She is equally as excited that her daughters will be there to witness the achievement.

“I’m excited for my mom. She has worked hard for this and deserves it. She is awesome,” said Gabby with pride.