Howard Community College student Katie Dunklee won't name the four-year school — her top choice — that turned her down for admission out of high school, but nowadays she doesn't lament the rejection.
In fact, to hear the Elkridge resident tell it, the snub, though disheartening at the time, has proved to be beneficial.
Surely her performance at HCC bolsters that claim. She has a 4.0 grade-point average, has become a leader of her junior college honor society and last month was awarded two national scholarships for her academic achievements.
A member of Phi Theta Kappa, Dunklee, 20, was named the society's Guistwhite Scholar and is slated to receive a $5,000 scholarship during the group's convention this weekend in San Jose, Calif., to be used for baccalaureate studies. She was one of 20 students selected from a field of more than 1,800 nominees.
Dunklee was also among 50 students nationally to be named a New Century Scholar by the American Association of College Presidents. That award includes a $2,000 scholarship, which she will receive at the group's convention in San Francisco.
Dunklee, an accounting major who hopes to become a certified public accountant, said her experience reflects the benefit of community colleges, and emphasizes the fact that for some people, they are the best path to take.
"I had not always wanted to attend HCC, but looking back, I would not begin my college experience any other way," she said.
She was accepted into several colleges and universities coming out of Mount de Sales Academy in Catonsville but balked at some four-year institutions because she figured, "Why go to a school that I'm not passionate [about] attending? And plus, I really didn't know what I wanted to do, so community college was the smarter choice.
"It was a hard choice at first, because most of my high school class would be attending four-year universities," she said. "But I realized I was smart for my decision ... because HCC opened me up to so much more."
Among her accomplishments at Howard has been leading her honor society in the creation of a website and marketing campaign called "Honorable Food: Making Locally Grown a Competitive Brand," which works to help local farmers get the word out regarding local farmers' markets and the benefits of supporting local agriculture.
Officials at Howard Community College said the project has been recognized as a Regional Hallmark Award Winner, and will be cited at Phi Theta Kappa's convention.
"More than anything, Katie is a truly unique student who has natural leadership qualities she doesn't realize she has," said Brittany Budden, director of the HCC Center for Service Learning and a Phi Theta Kappa adviser. "She has an ability to engage a whole room of students to create a share vision and move a plan of action while respecting others input and contributions."
Budden said she and Dunklee have spoken about not only about her pursuits after HCC, but what led her to the school.
"Regardless of what happened, the past two years at Howard Community College are something she has taken advantage of," Budden said. "She has stepped up to the challenges and given herself a chance to grow."
Dunklee said few students from her high school attend community colleges, but she's still on par with those who entered four-year schools as freshmen — even though they took a different route.
She said the social climate that is characteristic of four-year schools can also be found at community colleges such as HCC, and added that the Howard experience "really opens you up to who you are. There is really no pressure."
As she completes her two years at HCC, Dunklee said her scholarships will be used to help pay for the costs of attending a four-year institution.
Unlike her rejection coming out of high school, Dunklee has already been accepted at one of her top four-year choices — Towson University. She is also awaiting word after applying to the University of Maryland, College Park and Georgetown University.
"I feel much more confident in applying to colleges this time around," Dunklee said. "I will have an [associate's degree] under my belt and have been able to build my resume ... thanks to the smaller environment of a community college.
"All of these experiences will make me more confident and inclined to be involved at a bigger university and for the rest of my life."