LYNNWOOD — Rashanah Botley knows a few things about what it means to struggle in school.
Pregnant at 17, the Lynnwood woman says many people wrote off her career plans, telling her that as a black woman she would never find success in life as a single mother. She lived on food stamps and state assistance for three years.
Botley enrolled at Edmonds Community College before she was pregnant, with plans to eventually become an orthodontist.
“They assumed my being pregnant would deter me,” she says. “I experienced a lot of struggle with trying to balance my home life — being a mom, being a student.”
Botley didn’t listen to the naysayers. After all, her grandfather was an aeronautical engineer. And her mother, Paulette Botley, has taught math at the college for more than 30 years. If they could succeed, she says, so could she.
Since she was 17, Botley has worked as a part-time tutor and teacher’s aide at the college’s Math Center, where students get extra help.
Her mom began bringing Botley to the center when her daughter was 5 years old.
“She had kind of this counseling disposition,” Paulette Botley says. “Certain people have that gift.”
Rashanah Botley was a familiar face at the center and Math Lab, where students take math classes designed to bring their skill level up to college standards.
Eventually, Botley decided she loved working one-on-one with students looking for help in mathematics. Orthodontics, she decided, would take a backseat.
“I didn’t know how much I liked it until I was about 19 or 20,” she says. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else or being anywhere else.”
With her career focus clear and an associate degree in hand, Botley enrolled at Seattle Pacific University intent on earning an individual and family development degree.
“I had a goal of not just finishing but finishing with honors,” she said. “So that forced me to really make sacrifices. A lot of the things I wanted to do I had to sacrifice for what I needed to do.”
Last June, she graduated from SPU with honors.
On Sept. 1, Botley took on a new role: director of a new EdCC program geared toward boosting the number of low-income, women and minority students who pursue science and math-related careers at universities.
The job is a perfect fit for Botley, says Rebecca Hartzler, EdCC’s director of grants and Botley’s former physics instructor.
“The research shows that for young people, having someone who looks like them and comes from their culture makes a big difference,” Hartzler says.
MESA will be under the umbrella of the Math Center. Botley be working with her mom, who will serve as the faculty adviser.
That new program is known as Washington Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement — or MESA. It isn’t new statewide but is new to the college, which received a $55,000 grant last month to get it going in November.
Many students have a hard time time with math and science, remembering that they struggled with both as children, Botley says.
Students from low-income backgrounds are at an even greater disadvantage, she says.
Statistics back her up.
Research shows that state college graduates are filling fewer than half of the openings at technology-based companies, according to the Partnership for Learning, a Seattle nonprofit focused on education advocacy.
And less than 5 percent of science and technology-related college degrees are earned by minority students, according to the Partnership.
Botley has been busy the past month preparing for an open house this week and recruiting the 60 students who will receive tutoring and academic advice as part of the program.
To get in, students have to qualify based on financial need. About 600 EdCC students are enrolled in science degree programs. Of those, 80 are minorities. The college wants to increase the number of minority and women students studying science, spokeswoman Michelle Graves said.
“I was lucky to grow up in a household where math was our language,” Botley says. “I didn’t have that fear that I’ve seen a lot of our students have. I wasn’t told that I couldn’t do it. I always had that family support. That’s kind of what I’m designing MESA to be — like a family to offer that support and stability.”
Oscar Halpert: 425-339-3429; firstname.lastname@example.org.