“What would it be like to belong somewhere? To fit in and be part of something truly good?”
Jillian Herner pondered this often as she walked past the Phoenix College (PC) campus while struggling to find stability.
A Rough Beginning
Jillian had a difficult childhood; growing up in a family plagued by addiction and abuse. She was passed around from family member to family member as they struggled to survive. By the time Jillian was in her teens, she was staying at friends’ houses simply to stay in school. Unfortunately, the people in these homes had their own domestic violence and addiction issues. At the end of her senior year in high school, Jillian succumbed to the temptations surrounding her, becoming addicted to drugs herself.
Jillian graduated from Corona Del Sol High School in 2007 as an honor student despite the challenges she faced with homelessness and addiction. After high school, she began taking classes at a State university. Unfortunately, the pressures of living in domestic violence shelters, working several jobs, and relying on food and clothing banks began to take its toll. The final straw came when she needed to provide residency documentation to continue qualifying for in-state tuition rates. Years of sleeping on other people’s couches with no permanent address, left her unable to provide adequate tax records, compelling Jillian to drop out of college.
Taking Back Control & Daring to Succeed
Several years later, as Jillian stood on Thomas Road near the Phoenix College (PC) campus, she made the decision to disprove the labels she and society placed on her, recommitting herself to attend college.
In 2015, she enrolled at Phoenix College. Jillian is studying to become a nurse with plans for a medical degree in her future. Through a partnership with Northern Arizona University (NAU), Jillian is co-enrolled in the PC nursing program, while also pursuing a bachelor’s degree at NAU. Jillian carries a heavy course load while working two jobs; waitressing at a local restaurant and as a laboratory assistant in PC’s Physical Sciences department.
Jillian has access to the resources and support she needs to succeed at Phoenix College. After she enrolled, advisors and counselors at the College directed her to apply for various financial assistance to help pay for tuition and make ends meet.
Achieving More Than An Education
In 2017, Jillian was selected as a recipient of the Phoenix College Alumni Association Bear Scholars Program. Through the program, Jillian receives a substantial scholarship and is matched with an alumni mentor. Sensitive to the needs of others and passionate for social justice, Jillian pays it forward through her leadership in PC’s Women Rising Club, where she mentors and supports disenfranchised and minority female students on campus.
Having battled her way back from challenging circumstances, Jillian credits PC with giving her more than an education.
“PC gives me the opportunity to advance and pursue a rewarding career, but more significantly, attending college has healed me. When I’m here, I can talk about my dreams and I’m encouraged to pursue them.”
For Jillian, PC truly is home. She encourages others dealing with their own struggles to find hope that things will get better through education.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or experienced. Don’t accept the labels that society and others place on you. We are all worthy of belong as contributing members of society. College is for you if you want it. All you need is the desire to do it.”
Jillian takes great pride in the contributions she is making to the PC community and looks forward to serving as a nurse or doctor in the near future. She believes strongly in paying-forward the blessings she receives to help achieve her dreams. For more, please watch Jillian's speech [4 minutes] at the grand opening celebration of the Physical Sciences Building C in November 2018.