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Two Northern Essex Students Receive State Educators’ Scholarship

Submitted by on October 31, 2022 – 1:29 pm

Haverhill, MA (October 28, 2022) –Two Northern Essex Community College students, Thelma Ortiz and Skylar Underwood, both of Lawrence, recently received $700 scholarships from the Massachusetts Educational Opportunity Association (MEOA).

Ortiz and Underwood are involved in NECC’s Pathways to Academic & Career Excellence Program (PACE), a TRiO Student Support Services program that assists first-generation, low-income, or disabled students to graduate and transfer to four-year colleges.

Thelma Ortiz is studying respiratory care.

MEOA awards the scholarships annually to just six students statewide. These students have demonstrated the ability to overcome significant obstacles and attain educational excellence.

Thelma Ortiz is on track to graduate in 2023 with a Respiratory Care Associate Degree. She says she is inspired in her educational journey by her mother, who came to the United States from Guatemala at 19 years old in search of a better future. Like her mother, Ortiz has a learning disability. She says her mother taught her how to overcome obstacles by remaining focused on her goal.

“I hope my story will make a difference in another student’s academic journey and inspire them through their challenges and obstacles,” says Ortiz.

She says the scholarship money will allow her to work less to focus on her studies and become “the best clinician I can be for my community.”

Skylar Underwood is an Educational Studies major

When they first enrolled in Northern Essex, Skylar Underwood was initially unsure of what they wanted to study. Now an Educational Studies major, Skylar is planning to transfer to a four-year school after graduation this spring.

“I was ecstatic and relieved [to receive this scholarship] because I am one step closer to my goal,” Skylar shares. “This award will be going into my savings account to help me pay for my hopeful transfer to UMASS Amherst in the coming fall. It will allow me to hold my spot in the upcoming fall. My ultimate goal is to become a high school English teacher in a diverse area so I can give the students the representation they deserve. I want to create a safe space and allow the students to see themselves in the curriculum.”

Skylar says they may eventually become a college English professor, as well.

To learn more about the PACE/TRIO Program at Northern Essex, visit the webpage or contact coordinator Kristin Arnold at

MEOA is a 501(c)3 non-profit, tax-exempt organization made up of educators, policymakers, private sector professionals, and others committed to ensuring that secondary and post-secondary educational opportunities are appropriate and accessible to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.