For Corissa Wright, Sandburg the Path to a 'Brighter, Better Future'

GALESBURG — When Corissa Wright graduates from Carl Sandburg College this spring, the moment will be life-changing not only for her but also for her family.

“I beat five generations of teen pregnancy,” said Wright, 20, who’s on track to earn her associate in applied science in criminal justice this May. “I’m so proud of everything they went through. Now it's like I'm trying to break that generational buildup and hopefully provide for a brighter, better future for everyone.”

Wright graduated from Galesburg High School in 2021, becoming the first in her family to earn their high school diploma. But she had no intention of stopping there. Wright joined the Army National Guard and enrolled at Sandburg to study criminal justice after completing her training. Throughout the way, she couldn’t escape the idea of wanting to make her mom, Ellen Winkler, proud.

“We sort of grew up together,” Wright said of her mother, who completed her GED through Sandburg and came here to become a certified nursing assistant. “She had me at 16, so I saw her hard work, always providing and helping and still being that mother. That made me realize that in life you have to work for what you want. You have to have her persistence. And her caring heart also touched me to where law enforcement has the same qualities, and that's what pushed me into that.”

Wright already had some familiarity with Sandburg before starting here in the 2022 spring semester. She was selected to be in the Gale Scholars program in high school and also was part of TRIO Upward Bound, a federal grant program designed to assist low-income, first-generation students as they prepare to enter college.

“I loved it,” Wright said of her experience in Upward Bound. “It was very much like a family. They helped you with homework, career decisions, pretty much anything — even life issues. So, it was very rewarding, and it helped me with the decision to come here.”

Once she got to Sandburg, Wright joined TRIO Student Support Services, a sister program to Upward Bound that supports first-generation students enrolled in college. TRIO SSS offers numerous ways to assist students during their time at Sandburg, including tutoring, peer mentoring, career/major exploration and cultural activities.

“It was a little intimidating, but the (TRIO SSS) program sort of eased me into it,” Wright said. “They had opportunities beforehand to check out my classes and everything. It was a little scary at first, but there were tons of resources and people to help me.”

Wright came to Sandburg knowing she wanted to study criminal justice. In addition to her experience as a military police officer with the National Guard, she spent several years in the Galesburg Police Department’s Youth Explorers program and was in the law enforcement program at the Galesburg Area Vocational Center while in high school. Right away at Sandburg, Wright knew that she made the correct choice in sticking with that career track.

“I took one class with Chris Barber (coordinator of the criminal justice program), and I was in love with the law enforcement program,” Wright said, noting some of her favorite units in Barber’s classes involved casting footprints and examining blood spatter. “The way he teaches was hands-on and easy to understand. I could relate to it from my military police training, and I just loved the bookwork and everything.”

Now just a handful of weeks away from graduating, Wright is starting to plot her next steps. She wants to find work right away and hopes to one day land a job in law enforcement that’s connected to psychology.

“My plan was to make an impact on society, help people do good,” Wright said. “I grew up with a single teen mom. I just wanted to better myself and try to do good for not only my family but also for the community of Galesburg.”

The opportunity to make that a reality was right there in her hometown.

“Sandburg drew me in because I felt comfortable,” Wright said. “I felt like I can expand my future at the same time. It was just the right decision.”

Corissa Wright (left) and Sandburg criminal justice instructor Dr. Chris Barber conduct a blood spatter experiment in the criminal justice lab on Sandburg's Galesburg campus. Wright is on track to complete her associate degree in criminal justice this May.