by Gabrielle Corrigan
Seeking an education, Patricia Denga left Zimbabwe for the U.S., hoping to return one day and build schools for her fellow Zimbabweans.
It was their selflessness and their stature in academics that won Whatcom Community College students Denga, 28, and McGee, 26, the 2012 All-American Washington Academic medal presented by Gov. Christine Gregoire in March.
Both McGee and Denga received $750 from Northwest Education Loan Association and Key Bank, including scholarship recognition from four-year colleges across the country.
Denga and McGee had strong recommendations and academics, said Whatcom’s president, Kathi Hiyane-Brown, who made the final decision from the top applicants.
“For Patricia, in part, it was her leadership in Phi Theta Kappa,” said Hiyane- Brown. “And Stacey is also very active in service and leadership. They are just all around nice people.”
The All-American Washington Academic Team is an honorary scholarship given to two students from every two-year college in the state who received academic medals.
The scholarship is through Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, but applicants do not have to be members, said Laura Singletary, the student programs and leadership coordinator.
Arriving from Zimbabwe, Denga said she put her best foot forward and enrolled at Whatcom, pursuing an architecture degree.
Now she works at the financial aid and registration office and plans to transfer to the University of Washington this fall to join the All-College Academic Team there.
“A transcript will only take you so far,” Denga said. That is why she joined Phi Theta Kappa, helping with activities such as the campus-wide food drive, which the society hosted and this quarter’s plans to adopt a highway. For her work, she also won the Transforming Lives Award earlier this year.
As the co-president for Phi Theta Kappa, McGee is just as enthusiastic about the Academic Award and the society. The Academic Team is a way to honor students, she said.
McGee said after the loss of her best friend, she came to Washington and worked as a nurse’s aide. A couple of years later, she said, “I was just burnt out, and I wanted something more for myself.” So she enrolled at Whatcom.
That “something more” also came in the form of tutoring for the Whatcom Literacy Council, volunteering for the Marine Life Center, and being the president of the Whatcom Ethnic Student Association.
Both Denga and McGee save a little time for themselves in their busy schedules of giving back. McGee calls herself “a nerdy gamer,” as she relaxes with video games or hiking, and Denga said she loves to read Christian fellowship books.
Working side by side in Phi Theta Kappa, Denga and McGee have come to respect each other. “Patricia is amazing,” said McGee who describes Denga as her “idol” because of all Denga’s hard work.
“I would definitely encourage people to get involved in academics and get out into the community and help,” said Denga.