Olivia Matthews wins 2018 Paul Simon Essay Contest at SIC

April 20, 2018

A student essay reflecting on how opportunities given at Southeastern Illinois College and changes made while attending community college helps one to follow their passion has earned Olivia Matthews of Cave-In-Rock the 2018 Paul Simon Essay award at SIC.

“Being selected as the recipient of this award will allow me to focus more on my studies and less about my finances,” says Matthews.  “It means I am one step closer to achieving my academic goals.”

Returning to SIC next year, Matthews will continue in the pre-dental program working towards her associate in science degree. After graduation, she is looking to transfer to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where she will obtain her bachelor’s degree and major in Medical Sciences/Biology.

Dr. Karen Weiss, SIC vice president of academic affairs, congratulated Matthews on her award and presented her with a $50 check.  Matthews’ essay will be entered into the Illinois Community College Trustees Association’s Paul Simon Student Essay Contest at the state level.  The winner of that contest will receive a $500 scholarship during an annual awards luncheon this summer in Normal.

When asked what she benefitted most from at SIC, Matthews said, “SIC has provided me with great teachers that are always willing to help and guide me in the right direction.”

For more information on the contest, call 217-528-2858, ext. 1.




Written by Callie Smith, SIC student writer.

Matthews’ essay by permission:

How My Community College Has Changed My Life
By: Olivia Matthews

Attending Southeastern Illinois College has always been a part of my life’s plan. My mother, grandmother, and several of their siblings are all SIC alumni and, because of their experiences, I was certain that SIC would provide a solid beginning toward my goal of becoming a dentist. In high school, I was able to acquire over thirty college credits through the high school/college dual credit program. This gave me a huge advantage by allowing me to take all of my general courses so that I could focus on my required math and science courses when I got to SIC. After graduating from high school, I was extremely nervous about attending college. I came from a small school and expected to be in a classroom with so many students that I would not be able to get the help that I need from my professors. After my very first day of classes, I was happy to find out that this was not the case. The classrooms were small and getting help was their top priority. Being comfortable enough to talk to my instructors has always been important to me and to know how much they care about how well I do in their class is very reassuring.

One of the biggest ways my community college has changed my life is because of the low cost. Although I do work, and my parents are employed, I knew that money would still be a challenge for me. Compared to the university that I plan on attending after graduating from SIC, I am currently saving over eight thousand dollars a year, which is not even including my living expenses. My ultimate goal is to make it through these first two years of college without asking for too much financial assistance from my parents, and because I am enrolled at SIC, I should be able to fulfill this goal.

Even though I live a little over thirty miles away from SIC, I am very grateful that it is close to home. I am able to still live with my parents and I do not have to worry about paying for rent or other costly expenses that I would encounter if I was already at a university. Fortunately, I can simply eat and do my laundry at home without having to worry about spending money while doing so. I am also able to spend time with my family regularly. When I am hours away at a university, I will not be able to enjoy these simple things.

Overall, my experience with my community college has been better than I could ever imagine. They tend to get a bad rap because they are not considered the traditional “college experience.” In my honest opinion, that may be a good thing as I do not feel obliged to attend parties that I do not want to go to and I also feel very safe on campus. I have been able to make several new friends, studying partners, and help others in my community through clubs. I encourage anyone who has mixed feelings about community colleges to set them aside and to just go for it. SIC has completely changed my life for the better.