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Rising Stars: Meet Ginny Botts

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ginny Botts.

Hi Ginny, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I am a fourth-generation Orlando native. My family has actually been in the state since the 1830’s and Central Florida since the 1870’s. I think it goes without saying that Orlando is home. While I was lucky enough to attend college in Nashville, TN at Vanderbilt, I could never imagine living anywhere else. After five years and two degrees, I moved back to my hometown and looked for ways that I could become a productive member of my community. The best way I knew how to help my community was through helping lift up others. I took a minor detour in my professional life to get a doctorate in education at UCF. For me, education is the only way to disrupt poverty and lift up not just one generation but multiple generations, creating a lasting positive impact on our region. I found Support our Scholars through my mom who mentioned it might be a good place for me to volunteer. I was lucky enough to mentor a brilliant young woman through her educational journey at the University of Florida. It is through that experience that I knew what my mission and purpose was in life – to create deep, meaningful relationships with the younger members of our community to help them succeed.

While I was teaching at UCF, I would interact with students for a semester and then they would leave my classroom and continue on. I was often haunted by what happened to them. Did they graduate? Did they make it? Are they happy? Are they the person they were dreaming of being when they were a freshman student? Thankfully now, with the brilliant young women who are a part of our mentorship and scholarship program, I am never left wondering these things. One of the greatest joys is meeting a young woman when she comes in to interview and listening to her goals and what she hopes to achieve and then watching her become that woman, or even become something even grander than she ever dreamed of becoming. I have watched our students encourage their younger siblings to aim for college and even watched our graduates have their own families and know that family will be completely different because that woman preserved through to get her degree.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
I am not sure whose road has been smooth and if they tell you it has been they are certainly lying! While outwardly, most people would not have seen my struggles, but that is the way most people live. I think it goes without saying, getting a doctorate is not easy – even for someone who LOVES school. The sheer volume of reading, writing, and research that goes into that degree is really intense. While my education and degree certainly set me up to be knowledgeable in my job and know all the facts and statistics relevant to working with college students, what has made me successful in my work is being vulnerable with students. About a year ago, I was meeting with one of our new students for coffee. She was telling me about the challenges she was facing and then apologized to me say “I’m sorry you have to hear all of this since your life is perfect.” I looked her dead in the eyes with a little smile and told her “See this perfect person sitting next to you” (pointing at myself) “She has spent the past decade plus in counseling and spent three months in an inpatient treatment center for an eating disorder and anxiety.” My student looked at me with wide eyes and said “Well, I did not see that coming.” But it is through that decade plus of counseling that I have learned to come to terms with my past and open up to my students in a way that then allows them to open up to me. Showing them my flaws, missteps, and insecurities shows them that I am a human who is just here to love them and help them. Without that vulnerability, our mentoring model would not work.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I work for Support our Scholars as their Director of Mentors and Scholars. Support our Scholars (or SOS for short) is a not for profit organization whose mission is to support underprivileged young women with extraordinary potential. Our organization selects young woman at the top of their high school graduating class and mentors them throughout their four years of college and beyond. My specialty and my passion are working with college aged students and helping them fulfill their dreams. I have an educational statistic ready for any situation that might arise. Not surprisingly, our students respond to stories and emotion, not just statistics. Every single day I could go work, I am so grateful. These 52 young women who are currently in our program inspire me every day. They have overcome so much in their short lives, things that I never could have endured, and continue to press on.

With them, I feel like a proud mama hen. I celebrate their successes (“I got an internship” “I got offered a job” “I got an A on that chemistry test”) and my heart breaks with their disappointments. I get immensely proud when I think about my paternal great grandmother who was a teacher and so passionately believed in education and my maternal grandmother who was the only woman in her family to go to college. I am proud that my life and my work is the fruition of their efforts and passion, and I hope that this is the kind of change I am helping to create in the families of our students. What sets me apart from others is a couple of things. First, I am doing the work that most educators dream of doing – have deep, lasting, impactful relationships with students. But second and most importantly, I absolutely love what I do, and I firmly believe that comes through in my work. This is not just a job for me, it is a life calling.

If you had to, what characteristic of yours would you give the most credit to?
There are several qualities or characteristics that I believe contribute to my success. First, the ability to be vulnerable, but I have already talked about that. Second, that I love what I do, which hopefully is very obvious if you’ve made it this far. Third, I am always looking to learn and grow. Even with the top degree in my field, I am continually reading and listening to other experts in the field. It is so important to never stop learning and never stop having the heart of a student. Finally, my focus in solely on the young women I get to work with. I have the freedom to try new initiatives or strategies and if they don’t work, it is not about me and my mistake or failure but looking at how can I do something better or different from them. As a recovering perfectionist, this shift in mindset has been a complete game changer in how I do work and how I feel about work.

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Image Credits
Jen Adams Christi Ashby

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