Antonina Pashchuk, Student
MLK Scholarship Winner
She didn’t speak a word of English when she immigrated to the United States at age 16.
Today Antonina Pashchuk, TCC student and the recipient of this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Award, eloquently describes the obstacles she has overcome and the volunteerism that has become an integral part of her life.
Throughout, Dr. King has been a role model to her.
“What I really like is he had this dream in equality – that all people are equal,” she says. “He was not just a politician; he was a man who believed strongly in God. He inspires me and there are not that many people who do that.”
Raised by a single mother in Ternopil, Ukraine, Pashchuk, age 24, spent her childhood working weekends on her grandparents’ farm in the nearby village of Pidhorodne. Life took a huge turn when she was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at 11.
“By the time I was 14, I got sick with the flu and was pronounced clinically dead,” she says. Her body rejected the insulin and was unable to restore itself for two years. Her grades slipped in high school as a result, and when her family made the decision to immigrate to the United States, she was placed in 10th grade at a public high school in Syracuse, N.Y. Had she remained in Ukraine, she would have only been a year shy of graduation.
“I didn’t speak English; I didn’t even know the alphabet,” she says.
By her senior year, Pashchuk was engaged, and in October 2007, she married her husband, Yaroslav, who had enlisted in the Navy two years before. He was stationed at Naval Station Norfolk, so Virginia Beach became her new home.
She was attracted to TCC because of its English as a Second Language program.
“It was a great fit,” she says. “ESL courses offer such great diversity of people. Some of them really inspired me. One lady in my class was 60, and she was starting her doctorate. I remember thinking, ‘She’ll be 80 when she finishes.’ I realized how much of my life I had ahead of me.”
Pashchuk will graduate in 2014 with an associate of applied science degree and plans to be a physician’s assistant. She will transfer to Old Dominion University for her bachelor’s and would like to study at Eastern Virginia Medical School for a master’s degree.
“Because I like to work with people and help people, this will be a good field for me,” she says. “Because I have diabetes, I know how it feels, and I can help children because it’s hard for them to understand what’s going on. It’s hard to tell a 5-year-old she can’t have cake or candy.”
Pashchuk is equally passionate about her volunteer roles. She is president of Family Readiness Group, a network of support services for her husband’s squadron, Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron-125. Later this year she will become the VAW-125 Command's ombudsman.
“I have been through three deployments,” she says. “Many new spouses have no idea what they’re getting into. I want to develop personal relationships with spouses and make sure they know they can call me anytime.”
As a volunteer, at Wave Church, she has taken part in school remodeling projects, cooks for those in need, assists with Angel Tree giving and participates in many other local activities.
Pashchuk is thankful for the Martin Luther King Jr. scholarship. She plans to attend the ceremony Feb. 18 at the Roper Performing Arts Center with her former ESL professor, Susan Boland, because her husband will be out of town.
The scholarship, “is not just about the money,” Pashchuk says, though it will help with tuition costs and books. “It boosts my confidence in so many ways, and it motivates me to never stop trying.”