Major: Speech Communication
Abigail Escatel left a high school known for its high dropout rate and thought her options for further education were limited.
“My test scores were not the best,” she said. “A majority of my friends dropped out, and while I was not encouraged to continue, I did finish high school.”
She spent most of the next two years working, taking a six-month break to care for her newborn daughter, Natalia.
But it was her curiosity about college and a desire to find a financially stable career that led her to College of DuPage. Initially interested in the Paralegal Studies program, Escatel expected only to get the bare minimum out of her experience.
“In high school, we were pushed into tests without thinking about the material. Things were thrown at me without explanation,” she said. “At College of DuPage, I began developing critical thinking skills, and it was a much better experience than I ever had before.”
When Escatel enrolled in Speech Communications with Professor Lauren Morgan, she learned how to speak without a script and how to say something without guidance. She also discovered her passion, which led to her decision to join the Forensics team.
“During my first year on the team, everything was so new and I was learning so much, but I also realized I had found my niche and that I had found a family,” she said. “I never had an experience where I was part of a team. It broke down a wall.”
Instead of just getting by, Escatel was determined to get as much as possible out of her education. Her success on the speech team gave her the confidence to try other activities. In addition to working more than 20 hours per week, she was a member of the Honors Program with a 3.889 GPA, a member of Phi Theta Kappa and a New Student Orientation Leader.
In 2013, she received the prestigious Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, the largest private scholarship for two-year and community college transfer students. Escatel was one of 73 students nationwide to receive the scholarship and the sixth COD recipient in the school’s history. The scholarship consists of $30,000 annually to cover educational expenses – including tuition, room and board, books, and fees – for the final two or three years as the student completes a bachelor’s degree.
She also won a gold medal in Communication Analysis at the 2013 Phi Rho Pi National Forensics Tournament, where she helped the team win its first national championship in 10 years. Morgan praised Escatel’s leadership and passion.
“Abby is one of the most intellectually curious, academically talented and promising undergraduate students I have known,” she said. “However, my greatest pleasure is knowing Abby personally and experiencing her humor, intellect and positive attitude even in the toughest times. As a first generation college student and single mother, Abby is the poster child for determination, perseverance and grace under pressure.”
Escatel, who transferred to North Central College, majored in communications and earned a bachelor’s degree. While at NCC, she was elected Outstanding Communication Major Student for two consecutive years, was inducted into the Lambda Pi Eta Communication Honors Program, won All-American for the American Forensics Association (one of only 13 students receiving this honor nationally), was State Champion at the State of Illinois IIFA Speech Tournament in 2014, presented research at the National Communication Association’s Undergraduate Honors Conference, and made the Dean’s List.
Having received the Jack Kent Cooke Graduate Scholarship, Escatel attended DePaul University and earned a master’s in Multicultural Communication. While at DePaul, she was awarded the highly competitive graduate research assistantship, which meant she could teach an undergraduate class by herself.
Once again the Jack Kent Cooke organization provided funding for her doctorate in Rhetoric, Politics and Culture, which she currently is pursuing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“My research focuses on the ways ‘motherhood and reproduction’ are rhetorically constructed, particularly for women of color and low income women and how these dominant constructions are particularly harmful for these women,” she said. “My focus on reproductive justice means I look into specific case studies of sterilization abuse, contraception and the separation of children from their mothers. In a nutshell, I advocate for the rights of women.”
She is teaching college undergrads as she prepares for a career as a higher education professor. In the community, she is a core member of the P.O.W.E.R. Collective (People of Wisdom Eternally Revolutionizing), a group of scholar-activists who specifically center on the voices of community members in their scholarship and activism. They work with youth in the Madison area, and one of their largest projects is advocating for “No Cops in School.”
Escatel is honored to have received the Jack Kent Cooke scholarships and admitted she wasn’t aware of the amount of work she had put into her education.
“I fell in love with learning at College of DuPage. The faculty made me think outside the realm of the classroom and that there was more to the world than just getting an ‘A,’” she said. “The hardest part was not being afraid to devote so much time to what I wanted to pursue.
“I also want to be an inspiration to my daughter. I don’t want her to have the same obstacles I had to overcome. I am showing her that success is within her grasp.”