Shandy Pinkowski is going to be an exceptional lawyer. When she sets her mind on something, she makes it happen. And it doesn't hurt that she likes to argue. To say that she is determined is an understatement. She has lived on her own since she was 16 years old. She grew up in a difficult home, and briefly lived in foster care. But through it all, she had her mind set on going to college, and she dreamed of traveling. She says it was her way out — of her small hometown in California and the way of life she grew up watching. In this interview, Shandy talks about her motivation to pursue a higher education, her experiences studying abroad, and the important role mentors and other supporters have had in her life.
Tell me about your determination to go to college and why you chose UC San Diego.
Pinkowski: My determination to go to college was a direct result of a disadvantaged upbringing. My younger sister and I were subjected to an abusive childhood that forced us to live very unconventionally. Most children turned to their parents after a rough day at school, but we turned to our teachers after plaguing days at home. We both developed very strong relationships with our teachers, which fostered a reliance on our education for both security and positive reinforcement. I think my sister and I both knew that going to college was the only way out of our terrible home situation.
Choosing a college was a much different story, full of wonder and excitement. The idea of getting out of the small towns where I grew up, and having the opportunity to learn, explore and discover new things, truly meant the world to me. And the day I set foot on the UC San Diego campus, I knew I wanted to be here. The beach, the trees, the intimidating spaceship [Geisel Library] — the campus was full of knowledge and scholars. It drew me to San Diego. I felt that I had a great deal to learn from UC San Diego, and just as much to contribute.
How have various mentors and teachers helped you throughout your life?
Pinkowski: I wish all teachers and professors were aware of the significant impact they have on students' lives. The teachers that I had growing up were always very supportive, understanding and encouraging. And as a child, you certainly need that. The smiley face on a paper, the high-five at the end of class and the rewarding candy for high achievers truly serve to motivate children very early. I have been lucky to have similar positive experiences with my professors here. I have had the opportunity to work with faculty members who offer the same encouragement. Getting to know your professors and faculty members in the financial aid office or your college can yield mutually beneficial relationships. Whether it is extra support or acknowledgement of hard work, faculty members are not just there to give you guidelines. They are helpful resources for navigating your way through UC San Diego. And if you invest your time, you can build great friendships through this process.
How important has it been to have scholarship support?
Pinkowski: Frankly, I would not be where I am today without the generous support of scholarship donors. Because of their kind and giving nature, I will graduate from UC San Diego in June with a bachelor's degree in both international studies and philosophy. I am fortunate that I will carry rewarding college experiences into law school — experiences in the classroom, through the relationships I have made, and my ventures abroad. Fifteen years ago, I never would have guessed that the life I am living would have been possible. My parents didn't go to college; my father didn't even graduate high school, and I lacked the resources necessary to go to college. But I have a story to tell now, and scholarship donors to thank for every bit of it.
You originally planned to major in psychology, but changed to international studies and philosophy. Why the shift and what is your career plan?
Pinkowski: My desire to be a psychology major really stemmed from my need to understand my childhood and many of the experiences I had to overcome. I had decided that psychology books would give me all of the answers, and also provide me the ability in the future to help other people in a similar position. After my freshman year, I decided that I couldn't handle any more pessimism or negativity in my life, and ran from the idea of being a therapist. But I also decided to chase another dream, and that was to travel. Growing up in small towns felt to me like living in a box and I wanted nothing more than to see outside that box, to see the world. So I decided to study it. My international studies, combined with my legally orientated brain, have led me to pursue a career in international corporate law.
How did your experiences studying abroad impact your life and academic decisions?
Pinkowski: Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I have ever made. There is truly nothing comparable to living in another country, diving into their way of life, experiencing their culture, eating their food and learning from them. It changes your perspective on life and makes you grateful for being able to live it. I never realized how sheltered I was living in a small town and then in beautiful La Jolla. We take so much for granted until we are forced to live without the luxuries that the rest of the world doesn't have. Suddenly, you get back to the United States, and you look at your dryer with tears in your eyes and you drink a gallon of soy milk. But, if you are like me, the travel bug hits you, and you're on Expedia.com and saving every penny to plan your next trip. I knew after my first experience abroad, with Professor Moore through Global Seminars in Cadiz, Spain, that my career must allow me to travel for work. And spending a semester in Rome only confirmed these feelings.
How do you balance working three jobs, studying and having a social life?
Pinkowski:Well, my social life is severely lacking on account of my academic and professional obligations. But I manage to balance work and studying by keeping a very accurate calendar. Admittedly, my ambitions of conquering the world and still getting eight hours of sleep a night rarely pan out. Though I do manage to highlight and bold-face due dates to keep me on track as my body threatens sleep. It's important to always keep your professors and work colleagues aware of any major dates that might impede on your commitments. They are much more understanding than you might think, especially if you plan ahead and give them warning. I've been communicative with professors and work managers, and this has certainly paid off as the workload becomes unbearable. Granted, this is bound to be the case with three jobs and a full-time class load. I've also learned that sometimes it's better to give your body the rest it needs instead of struggling for hours and accomplishing only what you will erase the next day.
What advice do you have for prospective college students, particularly those who wonder if college is attainable?
Pinkowski: My advice is this: fight for your dreams and don't let anything stand in your way. We often want to blame the circumstances of our life for what we are not able to accomplish. But only we can stand in the way of our dreams, as we choose how our situations affect us. The beauty of life is the ability to move on and change the future. There are resources available for students who want to go to college, from faculty members that are here to help you navigate through the application process, to fee waivers and grants that ensure you are able to participate. Talk to your school officials about scholarships for taking the SAT, discuss payment options for tutoring courses to increase the competitiveness of your application, and contact the financial aid office for scholarship and financial aid information. The most important thing you can do is be proactive in seeking out these resources, because they are there for you to use! College is attainable for everyone and, unfortunately, it might be the case that, like me, you have to fight your way to get here. But it is the most rewarding fight in which you will ever participate.
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