For Zana Danner, Carl Sandburg College ‘Definitely Where I was Supposed to Go’

  Aaron Frey
  Wednesday, May 15, 2019 4:40 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Just a few years ago, Zana Danner nearly didn’t graduate high school and even lived out of her car at one point.

As she gets set to graduate from Carl Sandburg College on Thursday evening, she’ll leave with a near-perfect GPA and a recipient of one of the most prestigious transfer scholarships in the country. Along the way, Sandburg has helped her break out of her shell, become involved in virtually everything on campus and do something no other student here has done before.

Last fall Danner was selected as a 2018 Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, an honor given to the highest-achieving students at colleges and universities throughout the state. She became the first Sandburg student to receive the award, but the honors didn’t stop there.

In April, Danner was awarded a 2019 Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation. Nearly 1,500 community college students nationwide applied for the scholarship, with Danner being just one of 61 recipients. The scholarship will provide her up to $40,000 annually — covering tuition, living expenses, books and fees — for up to three years to complete a bachelor’s degree.

“I was literally on the ground crying because I could not believe I had won,” Danner said. “It takes that financial burden completely off of me, so I can immerse myself into research and internships and things that will help me progress my career even further, and that’s what excites me about school. Having something that can take that off of me, it means the world to me.”

Her path to this point, however, wasn’t always lined with success. Family issues led her to living on her own when she was just 17. Danner’s grades suffered. She failed one class and got a D in another but managed to graduate from Sherrard High School. She spent part of the next year living with a friend in Germany, cut ties with everyone she knew from high school and decided to start fresh when she came back to the U.S.

“That’s what I needed to clear my head and really realize what I wanted to do,” Danner said. “As soon as I got back, I started looking into community colleges. I talked to other students who had gone places and, by far, Sandburg seemed like the best one out of them. I came and visited, and I enrolled.”

Danner joined TRIO, a federally funded support program for first-generation college students, and had a 4.0 GPA each of her first two semesters, but she just attended her classes and went back home. It wasn’t until she joined Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society that she started to become involved on campus.

“Once I got pulled into the first club, I wanted to keep getting more involved,” Danner said. “It grew from there.”

Danner spent 2018-19 as the vice president of PTK and was elected president of the Student Government Association. She also was on the Leadership Council of TRIO, served as a tutor and was a member of Women of Character, a campus service organization.

Danner has her sights set on becoming a pediatric doctor and has applied to transfer to some of the most prominent universities in the country — including Johns Hopkins, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Iowa. She’ll make a decision in the coming weeks on where to continue her education, but she’s thankful for the start she got at Sandburg.

“At first I had the same viewpoint other people did in high school, that community college is a low standard. You don’t want to go there; instead, you want to go straight to a four-year college or university. Coming here has completely changed my viewpoint of this,” Danner said. “I’m extremely grateful for this school, and this is definitely where I was supposed to go. It’s helped me grow immensely by pushing me far beyond my comfort zone and limits.”

Zana Danner

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Aaron Frey