Jemese Marks walked the Wintrust Arena stage earlier this month to receive her associate’s degree.
She was one of about 1,400 students who attended City Colleges of Chicago commencement ceremonies at their seven colleges to celebrate their achievements.
Marks, an Austin resident, earned her associate in applied science degree in early childhood education from Malcolm X College.
Passionate about working with children, Marks knew she wanted to go into the field of education. “I find myself at my best around children.”
Going to Malcolm X College, just a few miles east of Austin, provided her a pathway to achieve that goal. The affordable cost of their programs, proximity to her home and support provided by the college faculty factored into her decision.
“I always knew about [Malcolm X College]; my mom went there years ago,” Marks said. “It seemed like an affordable plan.”
Hundreds of West Side residents are attending City Colleges of Chicago. In 2022, there were 921 students who listed an address within the ZIP code 60651 earning credit, and 568 enrolled credit students from the ZIP code 60644.
Marks, like many enrolled students at City Colleges of Chicago, juggled work and college. She initially worked in her field but because of COVID-19 lost her job in childcare. Then she switched to a retail job before finding an opportunity to go back to her field for practical training.
She credits her instructors for providing the support she needed outside of school.
To get her certificate, she needed to complete 250 observation hours in a school setting. With the help of her instructor, Marks found a school where she was able to do it while gaining valuable experience.
“The school has great people … I just found the help that I needed,” she said.
This is not the end of Marks’ college journey. In Januayy 2023, she will move to Georgia to start a bachelor’s degree program in education and social work – with the goal of becoming a third grade teacher.
“I feel good, like I worked hard for it.”