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Alumna credits ECC for opening doors and providing sage advice


For University of Chicago Law School student and Elgin Community College alumna Andrea Andrada ('09), life at ECC was filled with surprises.

She landed the ECC Trustee Scholarship and the David Eno Memorial Academic Award from the ECC Foundation to assist with educational expenses. She was elected student trustee of the ECC Board of Trustees and lobbied for education reform in Springfield and Washington, D.C. She started her own nonprofit to help needy children in the Philippines and filmed a documentary of the nonprofit providing toys and school supplies to children in domestic abuse shelters.

Because of her nonprofit, Andrada won the USA Today Scholarship on the USA First Team, and the Coca-Cola Foundation Scholarship. That ultimately led her to receive a phone call in the middle of her ECC macroeconomics class inviting her to do a live interview on CNN about her USA Today win.

“CNN wanted a student to contribute to a growing national dialogue about community colleges,” she recalled. “When I had the idea of starting a nonprofit, it was well-received at ECC. No one questioned the feasibility and there was real excitement. Initially, I was timid with my ideas, but the encouragement of my peers gave me the confidence to keep voicing ideas and pushing boundaries. ECC set the framework for me to believe in myself more than I ever did before and empowered me to prepare for larger-than-life outcomes.”

Ironically, community college wasn't in Andrada's original plan.

“ECC wasn't where I planned to be,” she confided. “But it quickly became apparent to me that ECC offered a gold mine of opportunities.”

Andrada pointed out that ECC was where she first developed a multitude of diverse friendships, including people not only from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also a vast span of ages and life experiences.

“It strengthened my empathy for people from diverse walks of life who have varied goals,” she said. “One of the greatest qualities of my ECC experience was all that I learned from my peers and classmates.”

The accessibility of professors and advisors was equally invaluable to Andrada. She relied on the advice of mentors like Dr. David Sam, the college's president, and Paralegal Professor Emeritus Laurel Vietzen to forge her atypical path to law school.

Her journey beyond ECC began with the influence of fellow student and Phi Theta Kappa member Carolyn Tran ('08), who was a year ahead of Andrada and had transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Tran suggested UIUC and when Andrada visited, she found it a good fit for pursuing her bachelor's degree.

Andrada's ECC student government work fostered her newfound passion for civic leadership and public policy work. Her mentors encouraged her to pursue a master's degree at UIUC, while her fellow classmates were going directly to law school. Her master's project included spending several months with the Scottish parliament in the United Kingdom, applying all that she had learned about campaigns and political systems. After completing her customized master's degree, she worked professionally with the president of Arizona State University on projects to increase access to education.

Also unique to Andrada's educational pathway were the advantageous paralegal courses she took at ECC. “My mentors shared with me that when they were at big firms, they relied greatly on paralegals to help put together legal documents.”

She added. “Professor Vietzen suggested ECC's paralegal courses would serve me well in my early career. Apparently, many law schools don't emphasize teaching the legal research and writing that paralegals do. It was great to learn skills that helped me to hit the ground running.”

While Andrada is uncertain which area of law she will pursue once she graduates from the University of Chicago Law School, paying forward her community college education and advocating for community colleges is definitely on her horizon.

“I enjoyed seeing my younger brother, Adrian, flourish and graduate from ECC in 2010. If I can keep championing the value of using a community college as part of one's education, that would be rewarding stewardship for me,” she said. “My sister, Angela, is a freshman at ECC and she tells me that my story inspires her, too. I know she's at a place that will empower her to achieve her big dreams as well.”



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