Rebekah Morin, of Hobart, grew up in what she calls a small, ethnic community on Chicago's South Side where people didn't care a lot about education. She said many of her neighbors didn't complete high school, and college was a foreign concept.
Morin has earned an associate degree in paralegal studies in 2005 from Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso; a bachelor's in criminal justice in 2010 from Trine University; and is working on a master's in leadership at Trine. She will graduate in October.
Morin's passion for education began in sixth grade when she participated in a gifted and talented program. She attended classes at the University of Chicago weekly, excelling in math and earning high school credits.
"I didn't know anything outside of my bubble, outside of my neighborhood," she said. "I had no clue to the kind of opportunities that were out there. We lived in such a small, close-knit community. It was mostly Hispanic, some Macedonian. Some people spoke Spanish. I began getting a lot of letters to attend magnet schools."
She was invited to attend the Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago, and went when she became a high school freshman. Morin's mother checked out the school and was satisfied with what she learned, but it was no easy trek for the teen. Morin had to catch a bus and a couple of trains before arriving at school.
"It was mind-boggling. It was culture shock," she said. "My parents were divorced. My mom worked. It was quite a commute, almost an hour and a half one way."
In the middle of her junior year, Morin moved in with her father in Merrillville. She graduated from Merrillville High School in 1990. At 19, Morin had a baby. She also moved back to Chicago and attended Olive-Harvey College where she earned a certificate in data processing. She took a job doing administrative work in downtown Chicago.
Morin married and had two more children, but later divorced and moved to Hobart. At the time Morin was busy balancing being a working mother, she said she learned her youngest son had issues with food allergies, and she had to make his food and take it to day care. She said he has outgrown all but a few allergies.
Morin, who was interested in the legal profession for a time, said research and case studies fascinated her. However, she found her true calling when she became a student support specialist at Trine University in Schererville.
"I have been unbelievably blessed," she said. "I always said this is my plan A to get an education so I could have a career, not just a job. I had no plan B. The movers and shakers are the educated people. Those are the people who have a voice. If you don't like the way things are happening in your community, get an education so you can be one of those voices to make a change."