At the May 11 Board Meeting Study Session, the TCC Board of Trustees voted to select Amin “Tony” Hester as the Ellen Pinto Outstanding Student of the Year. As Outstanding Student of the Year, Hester will be awarded $1,000. Finalists Chaeryeoung Kim and Belinda Laju will be awarded $500.
Ellen Pinto Outstanding Student of the Year Finalist: Chaeryeoung Kim
Chemical Engineering major Chaeryeoung Kim is an International student from South Korea. She chose TCC because she heard TCC has high school completion programs for international students, because she wanted to a college with inexpensive tuition, and because she heard that TCC has an excellent engineering program.
When Kim was in public school, she was interested in Earth Science. She decided that a degree in Chemical Engineering would allow her to pursue a career in sustainability.
Kim volunteers on campus and with her church youth group. She is active in TCC clubs and is currently helping two South Korean students who want to attend TCC next year.
Ellen Pinto Outstanding Student of the Year Finalist: Belinda Laju
In 2019, after 12 years out of school, Belinda Laju decided to attend TCC to finish her prerequisites and apply to the nursing program. She says that the Early Learning Center (ELC)’s assistance in caring for two of her three children is the factor that made it possible for her to return.
“ELC has been a family for our household that have bridged the gaps where extended family was missing. Each staff member serves as an intricate role in our children’s lives that make them belong and be seen. It has been amazing to watch our children grow and learn within a loving, safe, and patient environment,” Laju said.
Laju wanted to give back what she received. She wanted to help families to understand the impact that early child learning has while helping them to be involved in supporting centers and programs through decisions that would directly impact both state and federal policies and budgets. She applied to be a parent ambassador in 2019 and was the first representative from TCC to be accepted into the one-year 2020 Washington Association Parent Ambassador program.
Laju also volunteered to serve as President of the ELC Parent Committee, working alongside ELC Family Support Specialist Rosy Schlitzkus to facilitate monthly meetings for parents to be actively involved in the Center and in the community through decision-making and advocacy.
“The parent committee provides a safe place for all voices to be heard and plans events throughout the year for families to spend time together in building relationships that support their journey,” Laju said.
Laju is currently a level 2 Nursing Student at TCC and serves as the Student Nurse Organization (SNO) cohort pinning coordinator, SNO class representative, and SNO Vice President. Eventually, she would like to become a Nurse Practitioner Midwife and open her own practice.
Ellen Pinto Outstanding Student of the Year: Amin "Tony" Hester
TCC has been part of Tony Hester’s story for a long time. Born with a visual impairment, he spent a lot of time in high school trying to figure out how to work with it. He entered TCC’s Running Start program at age 16.
“I was 16, and a friend of mine stayed right across the street, so needless to say, I didn’t do very good,” Hester said in his Ellen Pinto interview. “I used the excuse of going to my friend’s house to avoid doing the work. I didn’t understand how the work was done, and part of that was denial.”
Hester returned to TCC for a quarter before transferring to Washington State University. It was at WSU that he discovered his advocacy, serving in various roles in a campus disability advocacy group and ending up as President.
“That’s where I learned how to come into my own as a leader, having the understanding that it’s not just about me,” Hester said. “That it’s about the constituency that I serve, that it’s about the student.”
After graduating from WSU, Hester worked at the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind. There he realized that not all disabled people had his training in advocacy, and that he didn’t agree with the organization’s approach in all instances. Hester enrolled in a government relations training program, which gave him the ability to advocate on a city level. He learned about speaking for others, as well as for himself. Eventually, that brought him back to TCC. Having become fully blind 2-3 years previously, he decided to complete the Paralegal program before applying to law school.
Hester, who is also a single parent, volunteered at TCC until his daughter became seriously ill. Then he got a part-time job with OSE.
“That’s when I really said, this is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna make sure, at every meeting, every chance I get, that I speak for people not only like me, but maybe worse off than me. That was my mission,” Hester said.
In response to a Trustee question about how TCC can make the student experience better for students with disabilities, Hester said, listen to students. Buy the expensive technology. Beware of software companies that claim to be accessible but really aren’t. If you need extra help, hire extra help.
“I wish I had someone to listen to me – everybody thought they knew what I needed, everybody thought they had the answer, but really, the student has the answer,” Hester said.