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The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Design student Erin Gottis wins $2,750 scholarship

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Erin Gottis, a City College graphic design student, sits at 5 Sips Coffee & Tea on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023. Gottis was the winner of a $2,750 scholarship from Soroptimist Live Your Dream competition. Photo credit: Nick Shockey / [email protected]

One day during recess, Erin Gottis — who was working as a special education teacher — broke her ankle. Then shortly after, the pandemic began, and Gottis knew she could no longer pursue a career that required her to be up on her feet chasing kids around.

She had to figure out a new path. And, in the process, she rediscovered something she had long loved: creating art.

Gottis recently took home a first place prize of $2,750 from the nonprofit organization Soroptimist. The Soroptimist’s Live Your Dream Award is made “for women who provide the primary financial support for their families,” according to the organization’s website. “The Live Your Dream Awards give women the resources they need to improve their education, skills and employment prospects.”

Gottis submitted an application in October 2022, in which she detailed why higher education is important to her as a woman and found out she had won about a month ago.

“I cried,” she says. “I started to cry. Because it feels like it’s just been a long road. … Being acknowledged feels good.”

Gottis has big plans for that prize money, which she says could not have come at a better time. She says she will use the money toward offsetting some of the medical costs for her 12-year-old son, Mason, who has Type 1 diabetes. Between caring for her son, working part-time and keeping up with City College classes, Gottis received the prize money as some much-needed assistance.

Before attending City College, Gottis had worked in special education since she was around the age of 20 — the first and only job she has had. At the school where she worked, Gottis says she created a strong bond with parents and fellow school staff, who depended on her every day.

At the time of her injury, she didn’t know what to do. “This is all I know how to do,” Gottis recalls thinking. “And I don’t have a degree for that either, it’s just all like work experience. And so, I was really scared at first.”

Gottis says she always had a calling toward art. “I’ve always been an artist, but I’ve worked in special education for 20 years,” she says. “So I always try to incorporate art into working with the kids that I work with. Specifically I work with kids with autism, so they require a lot of visual representation to acquire new skills.” Gottis is currently still working in the field on a client-by-client basis, but is working toward transitioning out of that career. 

Gottis felt the next step of her life would be starting at City College. “I decided, well, I’m just gonna take some art classes because it was a passion of mine,” she says. “And as soon as I took the first illustrator class, I knew: This is what I wanted to do.” 

However, coming to this conclusion was tough. Gottis remarks that she had always wanted to pursue higher education. But being in her 40s, she feared she would struggle and be “out of place” among the sea of young people.

In fact, Gottis explains that throughout her life, no one had really mentioned the idea of college to her. “It’s expected that most people will go to college right after high school, and I chose to work instead … and I just didn’t feel capable of even signing up for school,” she says.

Thanks to her enduring passion for graphic design, and an encouraging close friend, Gottis applied for City College classes. It was a massive hurdle for Gottis to jump, but she says. “As soon as I started, I knew: “OK, I can totally do this.”

When she came to City College, she was excited to see people of all ages taking classes, all with different backgrounds and life experiences. “I’ve never once felt singled out because of my age,” she says.

Robyn Waxman, a design and digital media professor at City College says, “When I read the requirements of the Soroptimist scholarship, I immediately thought of Erin. Having been a recipient of a Soroptimist grant in the past myself, I knew the scholarship would be authentic, and without strings attached. The Soroptimists are truly altruistic. Erin is a student who commits to projects and opportunities and always follows through. I was thrilled when she told me that she won first place. I could not think of someone more deserving of this scholarship than her.”

Taking classes related to art and graphic design, Gottis was able to renew her artistic passions and cultivate a new future for herself.

Gottis has big dreams for a future in graphic design: “My big passion is, because I worked in special education, is inclusion, anti-ableism, anti-racism — those are the three things that I really would love to express in my graphic design, or put my efforts towards working with nonprofits or the state,” she says. “Something that could make everybody feel included.”

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