by Linda Shrieves
Photo by Elijah Ronan

In her senior year of high school, Nyauni Crowelle could already envision life in college – where she hoped to play basketball.

But when she got rejected from 18 colleges and universities – and accepted by two out-of-state universities that would require her to take out substantial student loans – Nyauni was forced to take a step back and re-evaluate her college plans and her college dreams.

Today, after much soul-searching and exploration, she’s in a better place. Graduating from Valencia College this semester, she’s been selected as Valencia College’s Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate for 2024.

But three years ago, Nyauni could never have pictured herself in this spot.

Playing college basketball had been her dream for many years, but when the college offers came in, they were all from Division 2 and Division 3 schools, and offered her partial scholarships that did not match the cost of tuition.

“As a high school athlete, I thought that was going to be my gateway to college for free,” she says.

Complicating matters for Nyauni was her family’s new financial reality. Because of an extreme change in family circumstances and the loss of one income, Nyauni needed to assume more roles, helping pay the household bills and caring for her little sister. So Nyauni decided to take a gap year and earn money. Working as a medical scribe during the week, she logged everything that happened in a local emergency room. On the weekends, she bagged groceries at Publix, and she also worked as a remote product development specialist with an education technology startup to solve information inequity issues.

“There was a lot of anxiety,” she recalls. Yet, looking back, she can see the lessons those experiences taught her. “I want other people to see that I made it through,” Nyauni says. “In life, you have to jump over hurdles, obstacles, but you have to keep going.”

She also did a lot of introspection.

“I took the gap year to ensure that I had something to bring to the table. I needed the time to work on myself,” she says. “I had to deal with the reality that no school that I wanted to be at wanted me…This was a redemption journey for myself.”

So, nearly a year after graduating from high school, Nyauni began looking at college through a different lens. Although she’d never seriously considered Valencia College or other community colleges, she began to reevaluate her options.

“Valencia was always on the back burner. I think I really bought into the misconception about community colleges,” she recalls. “At first, I couldn’t envision myself at a community college. I wasn’t sure I would be able to execute all of my goals, based on what was offered in terms of academia and extracurriculars.”

But Valencia’s ads and postcards kept coming – and one really intrigued her. Valencia’s Seneff Honors College promised small classes with challenging classwork. That, along with the promise of free tuition for Honors College members, sold Nyauni.

At Valencia College, Nyauni took all her classes online – working remotely from her home in Clermont. The closest campus was nearly an hour’s drive from her home and she needed to be home to take care of her little sister, so online classes made the most sense.

Luckily, the Seneff Honors College provided her with the chance to meet other students – both online and in person.  She served as president of the Honors Student Advisory Committee to plan networking events and mentored high school students through Valencia’s Horizon Scholars program.

But for Nyauni, who’s really a people person, the highlight of her Valencia career came when she got to attend national honors conferences – and meet honors students from many states.

For Nyauni, whose family moved frequently during her childhood, the opportunity to travel and make new friends was invaluable. It also harkened back to the year she spent in Germany as a U.S. State Department youth ambassador, when she was 15 years old.

“I never attended the same school for more than two years,” says Nyauni. But that constantly changing scenery gave her a valuable outlook on friendship. “Some people are in your life for a season and some people are in your life for a lifetime.”

At her first honors conference in Dallas, Nyauni was thrilled to meet her honors advisor and one of her professors for the first time in person.

“I loved it,” she says. “It was extremely eye-opening and exciting to be around other honors students. I witnessed people sharing their research, connecting with one another, and talking about important subjects to change the honors landscape.”

Since then, she’s attended a state and regional honors conference – and traveled with Valencia’s honors students to a week-long study abroad trip in the Netherlands. There, one of her goals was to play basketball with the Dutch students – because she knows that sports can help transcend cultural differences. And, indeed, on the court outside the lodge where they were staying, she and a dozen other students from Valencia and the Netherlands shot hoops for hours.

Because she wants to pursue a career in sports science, Nyauni applied to and landed a spot in the Summer Health Professions Education Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where she and 79 other college students from around the country learned about health careers. She has also conducted undergraduate research on public health issues.

Now she has her eyes on her next step. After graduating from Valencia College, she’ll transfer to UCF’s Burnett Honors College, where she plans to major in kinesiology and minor in sports business.

“I want to do something that I’m passionate about and I want to drive impact,” says Nyauni.

She will be moving on campus this fall and she can’t wait.

“I’m super giddy about building my network with students face-to-face and taking my goals in volunteerism and professional development to the next stage,” she says.

Source: Valencia College