Her title is Financial Aid/Scholarship Specialist. But those who know her will attest Diane Danielewicz is much more. She’s a life changer.
Danielewicz has been transforming lives since she first began working with MiraCosta College at the North County Career Center, which was instrumental in helping laid-off workers, former foster youth, displaced homemakers, and former military personnel find employment. She has spent the past 11 years as MiraCosta’s financial aid and scholarship specialist, playing a critical role in guiding thousands of students to an array of awards that are available through government agencies, the MiraCosta College Foundation and other nonprofits that have made the difference between securing an education and dropping out of school for lack of finances.
Now Danielewicz is calling it a career. She is set to retire Sept. 30.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know and work with so many students who have gone on too do great things in this world,” Danielewicz said. “I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the most amazing people of all ages – veterans, refugees, transitioning high school students, the formerly incarcerated. It’s been a true blessing. But it’s time for me to move on.”
Dr. Sunita “Sunny” Cooke, president/superintendent of the MiraCosta Community College District, said Danielewicz will be missed.
“Diane has spent a career at MiraCosta College helping others and we cannot thank her enough for her selflessness and dedication,” Cooke said. “Students she works with will be the first to tell you that she cares, and her dedication has made such a difference in the lives of so many.”
Indeed, Danielewicz was honored with the MiraCosta College Spotlight Award for Outstanding Service in 2009 and the Outstanding Classified Employee of the Year Award in 2010.
Students say Danielewicz is deserving of those recognitions and more.
“From the moment I met Diane, I could tell that she is a woman who cares about the work that she does in helping students make their educational goals and dreams come to fruition,” said Jaime Ayala Jr., a former high school dropout who spent a decade behind bars but who is now excelling academically at MiraCosta College thanks in large part to the scholarships he has received with Danielewicz’ guidance. “She carries herself very professionally and is very efficient in helping students like myself apply for scholarships and has encouraged me in more ways than she probably even realizes.”
The need is profound. A recent San Diego State University study found that nearly 1 in 3 California community college students are either homeless or deal with insecurities about where they’ll be living, and more than 1 in 10 are unsure where they will get their next meal.
Danielewicz’ efforts range from simply letting students who come to her know about the possibilities that are out there to providing helpful guidelines on writing a personal essay and strategizing on whom to ask for letters of recommendation. She also has worked with countless donors over the years in establishing scholarships and scholarship criteria, and reviewing scholarship applications and transcripts for compliance.
“My basic job is to get the information about scholarships and financial aid out there to students and help them secure the resources that are available,” she said.
The numbers underscore the impact she is having. During Danielewicz’ first year as financial aid/scholarship specialist, 484 students applied for awards and 193 secured scholarships totaling $100,410. Ten years later, 1,038 students applied for awards and 512 secured scholarships totaling $416,000. Most scholarships are funded through the MiraCosta College Foundation, which has grown from a fledgling nonprofit more than a half century ago into a vital organization that has provided an indispensable source of funding for students and college operations.
Danielewicz also played a key role in helping an unprecedented three MiraCosta College students this year earning the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship of up to $40,000 annually to cover the final two or three years of their expenses at a four-year college or university. Omer Azizi, Farshud Sorourifar and Vanessa “Van” Reynolds now no longer need to worry about going into debt to pay for tuition, living expenses, books and required fees needed to secure a bachelor’s degree.
“Diane is the unsung hero behind the success of almost every MiraCosta College scholarship winner,” said Azizi. “She genuinely cares like a family member for a student's success. She worked with me on my application for the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship, and on her day off she came to school with teary eyes informing me that I have won it. Dianne is just a magnificent human being.”
Danielewicz didn’t set out to change so many lives when she decided it was time to move from Syracuse, N.Y., to California after a particularly brutal 1976 winter.
“My brother lived out here and I visited him for a few weeks in 1975 and saw a brand-new world,” she said. “I saw people who weren’t shoveling snow from their driveway. That was enough for me.”
Danielewicz took her skills as a longtime clerical worker and office manager both in Syracuse and California and put them to use at MiraCosta College, where she earned an associate degree in general studies in 2005.
David Broad, president of the MiraCosta College District’s Board of Trustees, noted that Danielewicz’ efforts don’t stop within the confines of her job. “I’ve seen her walk students over to the food pantry to make sure they’re fed. She’s identified students who could benefit from a mentoring program I’ve been involved with. She’s just fully committed to helping others and she’s been making a difference in students’ lives for a long time.”
Said Danielewicz: “What really makes working at MiraCosta so wonderful is you’re working with a team. It’s a cooperative effort. No single person is responsible for what is happening at this college. We’re all here working together on behalf of our students, and it has been an honor to be a part of that.”