News - 06/18/2014

MiraCosta College Sets Student on the Road to Success

Ingrid Phillips

Ingrid Phillips was thinking about moving back home to Michigan when she took a drive along state Route 78 and saw a freeway sign noting that MiraCosta College was just up the road.

Her life hasn’t been the same since.

Phillips, who had lost her home, her job and her marriage, drove to the Oceanside Campus not really sure what she was looking for. What she found was a supportive faculty and staff who encouraged the struggling single mom to go to college. They encouraged her to take advantage of the counseling and other programs that MiraCosta College offers. And they encouraged her to apply for every scholarship for which she qualified. 

Just a few years later, Phillips earned an associate of arts degree and is now studying at Cal State San Marcos with plans on becoming a counselor. Perhaps more impressive, she has secured $25,000 in scholarships since 2010.

“Everybody here at MiraCosta College has just helped me a lot,” said Phillips, who has left an impression on many at the Oceanside Campus.

“Ingrid has overcome a lot of challenges and a lot of hardships and has never let any of that stop her,” said Diane Danielewicz, MiraCosta College’s financial aid/scholarship specialist. “She’s just an exceptional person.”

It’s not clear where Phillips would rank on the all-time list of scholarships for MiraCosta College students, but everyone says it would be at or near the top. Among the awards are scholarships from P.E.O. International (Women Helping Women Reach for the Stars), the Osher Foundation, AARP, and four branches of American Association of University Women.

“A lot of people think to themselves, ‘No, I can’t get a scholarship.’ But you can,” Phillips said. “There’s money out there in every field. People are looking to help you.”

Financial aid has been a huge part of my success,” she added.  “Receiving financial support has helped me take care of the financial needs of my family, so that I could attend college full-time and work part-time.”

Phillips currently is featured in a video posted on the California Community College’s icanaffordcollege.com website, where she talks about financial aid and scholarships, and how they helped her succeed. The video also may be viewed on YouTube

“I would tell other students who want to attend college to take advantage of the opportunities that are available right now on their campus,” Phillips said.  “There’s the Board of Governors Fee Waiver, FAFSA.ED.GOV and EOPS programs. Most community colleges also have awesome scholarship departments, and too many students don’t even know about it.“

Phillips, who works at MiraCosta College’s Career Center when she’s not studying, said her goal is to earn a master’s degree in academic counseling. “I want to assist students and help them to figure out what they want to do with their future.”

Larry Burns, an EOPS/CalWORKs counselor who has known Phillips since she came to MiraCosta, said she would make a perfect counselor.

“Ingrid is a role model for any student but especially those who can relate to her past experiences. She is admired by those who get to know her through her work at the Career Center. I constantly hear from other students comments such as `she is the most helpful person there,’ or `she is so sweet and understanding.’”

Danielewicz agrees. “Ingrid is the type of person who will assist anybody and everybody who needs help.”

Hers is an inspiring story.

Born in Romulus, Michigan, Phillips moved to nearby Detroit when she turned 18. She would work as a secretary for the Police Department and as a clerk for Manufacturers Bank before getting married and having the first of her four children. 

“I became a stay-at-home mom and a really good cook, so I started a catering business right out of my kitchen,” Phillips said. “I grew a good clientele, including the NASA Space Program, some of the colleges, a congresswoman, Lou Rawls, and a lot of churches.”

But her husband was in the music production business, and he wanted to move to California. So they settled in Rancho Cucamonga, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles. Within a few years, her marriage ended. “I found myself a divorced mother of four with no job.” 

She landed a job as a notary when she noticed that loan officers were making some serious money, so she decided to become one herself. This was during the real estate boom of the early 2000s, when home prices were going up as fast as the temperature during strong Santa Ana conditions. 

But the economy suddenly turned. The Great Recession left millions of families in financial ruin. Phillips was among the victims.

“In 2007, everything turned upside down,” she said. “It all changed for me. I lost my business, I lost my home, my car was repossessed. At that point, I was thinking about moving back to Michigan.”

Phillips had no income. She sold purses, bags, shoes, clothes and furniture at garage sales to pay the rent. She was set on moving home to Michigan, but a friend in Carlsbad convinced her to stay in Southern California. Phillips and her children moved to a small apartment in the coastal North County city.

Little did she know her life would soon take another drastic turn.

“I’m sitting in my apartment, I don’t have a job and I’m wondering what to do,” Phillips said. “So I just got in the car and started driving. I was on the freeway and I saw a sign that said ‘MiraCosta College.’ So I got off the freeway and went to see what it was.”

Within minutes of arriving, a counselor walked up and introduced herself. The two got to talking, and the next thing Phillips knew, she had registered as a MiraCosta College student. She signed up for the EOPS, CalWORks, and CARE programs. 

She was 42 years old at the time.

Phillips concentrated on her studies and excelled in her classes. Soon, she began thinking about applying for scholarships to help her out. She talked to Danielewicz, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Those who know her say Phillips has been transformed.

“When Ingrid first came to MCC she was a totally different person,” Burns said. “There was a flicker of flame there but nothing of the inferno you see today. She has blossomed from a very insecure individual with doubts and fears to the very successful, confident and determined woman we know today.”

Phillips’ first scholarship – for $1,500 – came from the North County African-American Women’s Association. “I couldn’t believe it. It set me on fire, though. I started applying for everything.”

The most recent scholarship she earned came with $2,500 and a MacBook Air from the Cal State San Marcos Osher Foundation.  

Her children? A 26-year-old daughter will graduate from MiraCosta College in the spring with an associate of arts in English, with plans to transfer to UC Irvine. A 19-year-old daughter recently began her first semester as a student at the Oceanside Campus. A 14-year-old daughter is an aspiring ballerina who attends San Elijo Middle School. And a 22-year-old son is a Navy corpsman serving in Afghanistan.

“Getting on that freeway was the best thing I ever did.”

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