Katie Lipsius selected to receive the John T. Harrison Award, Chesapeake's top student honor.
WYE MILLS - Katie Lipsius, of Cambridge, uses struggle as motivation to succeed, and uses her academic success to help other students at Chesapeake College. The 20-year-old was selected to receive the John T. Harrison Award, Chesapeake’s top student honor. Lipsius was one of the 363 students who graduated from Chesapeake.
Lipsius graduated on May 20 with a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average, admiration from Chesapeake’s staff and appreciation from her classmates. She is also a member of Phil Theta Kappa National Honor Society and a Scholar Laureate.
"I was probably the only kid in my preschool class planning for college," Lipsius said. "I can’t remember a time in my life when graduating from college was not a goal. I truly believe that education is the best way to make a better life for yourself. It’s not easy, but getting an education is well worth the effort and is the best path to the life that you want."
A graduate of Cambridge-South Dorchester High School, Lipsius was an integral part of Chesapeake’s part-time tutoring program, working with math and science students in both Wye Mills and at the Cambridge Center. In addition to tutoring, Lipsius also gives her time in community service. She serves as secretary for the Nause Waiwash, a local Native American tribe, and has been a Mallard Bay volunteer.
Katie’s record of academic achievement and community service has come while dealing with challenges that arise from her Cerebral Palsy. There are days, she said, when it is difficult to attend class and walk around campus. Focusing on the goal of finishing college helped Lipsius push ahead during challenging times.
In her speech to the Class of 2015, Lipsius said she wanted recognized the success of her classmates, who gave her a standing ovation when she walked to the podium.
"I’m only here today because some took notice. I know that many of you have faced greater challenges than I have, and you’ve also been successful," Lipsius told the group. "This speech is for those have not yet been noticed. You’ve had a great achievement."
Now that she has earned her associate’s degree, Lipsius will transfer to the University of Maryland this fall for a bachelor’s degree in biological science. Her eventual goal is to become a veterinarian caring for large animals or doing research on endangered species. Her dream is to open a sanctuary for large, endangered animals.
"I realized early on that it would be a struggle for my family to pay for college," Lipsius said. "I knew that I would have to depend on getting good grades to make my college dreams a reality. It’s that way for a lot of people, especially students at community colleges."
Lipsius wasn’t content to focus solely on maintaining her own perfect GPA, but shared her philosophy with the students she tutored at Chesapeake College.
"It’s always important to do your best, but it is critical for a student who is struggling to pay for college," Lipsius said. "Make good grades, and you’ll be eligible for scholarships, which can mean the difference between reaching your goals and never getting ahead. Academic success can open so many doors."
That understanding of financial challenge and the power of education drives Lipsius in her dedication to tutoring classmates. Sometimes as a paid student tutor in the Academic Support Center, and at other times on her own. As she guided other students through challenging coursework, Lipsius also provided them with encouragement.
"I have balance issues, so I sometimes have to ask for help carrying liquids in science lab. I want to be independent, but there are times when I need a hand. We all need help at some point, and we have to realize when it is time reach out," Lipsius said. "I hope that I’ve been able to help my classmates with tutoring, but also by showing them that it is okay to ask for help. "
Lipsius said she understands how difficult it can be to ask for help, so she tries to reach out to students who may need extra assistance.
"Many students find it scary or very difficult to even approach a tutor for needed help," said Academic Support Services Specialist Mary Lu Towey. "Katie is a natural. Her students find her totally approachable, she listens to what her students tell her so that she can figure out how best to guide them. She is skilled at breaking concepts down in different ways. She asks questions that require her students to think and she gives them time to do the thinking. Katie is patient beyond belief."
Illness and medical treatments took a toll on Lipsius’ attendance through her school career. Always playing catch- up in her classes, she said the setbacks motivated her to work harder and study with more focus. She said she sees other students facing a variety of challenges and knows that their studies can be adversely affected.
"I hate to see a small thing stand in the way of a student’s success," Lipsius said. "A little extra time to learn or asking additional questions or seeing a concept demonstrated in a different way can be key. Sometimes that’s all it takes, so I want to do all I can. If that means working with a student on my own time, I’ll do it."
Towey said in addition to her paid tutoring assignments in the Academic Support Center, Lipsius would spend unpaid hours working with students. She said she was impressed by the dedication Lipsius showed to her students.
"I hadn’t considered being a teacher before this experience, but that may change," Lipsius said. "It’s great to see a student learn a concept or finally feel like they understand. My goal has always been to work with animals. Now I know that I also love to work with people."