Pamela Campos of West Chicago and Areeb Kidwai of Aurora are the 2020 Outstanding Graduates at College of DuPage.
Campos is earning her Associate in Applied Science degree and graduating from the Physical Therapist Assistant program. After taking her board exam, she plans to realize her dream of working as a therapist. Kidwai, having earned his Associate in Sciencedegree in December, is now majoring in Psychology at the University of Minnesota. His long-term goal is to open a residential school and provide therapy for young men and women to develop healthy habits.
The Outstanding Graduate finalists are Sarah Bredesen (Naperville), Keila Abigail Cardenas Arcila (Sugar Grove), Courtney Cechini (West Chicago), Matas Lauzadis (Bloomingdale), Phu Le (Glendale Heights), Heidi Monteith (West Chicago), Angelica Rossi (Darien) and Shannon Wells (Sheridan). Read more about the outstanding graduates.
After Campos sprained her ankle playing soccer in high school, she needed surgery when the injury did not heal properly. This was followed by physical therapy, during which Campos appreciated the skill and care demonstrated by her therapist. The experience influenced her decision when choosing a career.
“I found physical therapy different from other health care careers,” she said. “I liked the hands-on aspect of it and the idea of being there with the patient from the beginning of treatment through to the end. I also liked the physical and emotional healing that a PT can provide.”
Campos attended the University of Illinois at Chicago and majored in Kinesiology with a concentration in exercise science and health promotion. After earning her bachelor’s degree, she applied to graduate school three times to become a physical therapist. Unfortunately, she was rejected each time.
“After three attempts, I hit an emotional rock bottom,” she said. “I tried to look at the positive, but it’s hard to do when you did so many things to improve your application.”
One of those things was getting a job as a technician at a physical therapy clinic for two years. While she liked the setting, the position was not the one she wanted. However, Campos worked with graduates from College of DuPage’s Physical Therapist Assistant (PTA) program and observed the PTAs had better connections with their patients than the physical therapists.
As a result, she began to see a new career path within the same field.
“I thought of the quote, ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,’” she said. “I realized I just couldn’t wait for change to happen. I needed to change my journey, not the destination, and I needed to see that change is not failure but experience.”
Campos came to COD and was accepted into the PTA program. She is considering working with the special needs population, which she began doing after her first year at UIC when her parents encouraged her to get a job. Campos became a counselor at a swimming camp and ultimately head instructor for the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association, where she stayed for many years.
Regardless of what specialty she selects, Campos is excited about fulfilling her dream to become a therapist and looks forward to helping clients.
“What I learned in the PTA program is so vast, and every day I was learning something new,” she said. “I look back now and, to be completely honest, I think everything happened for a reason. Although not being accepted into PT school really broke me, I say to myself that I was meant to be in the PTA program at COD. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I am truly lucky to call myself a Chaparral.”
The academic success that Kidwai achieved at COD was the opposite of his experience in high school, where his GPA was 2.11 after his sophomore year and his behavior was anything but ideal.
“After being cut from the basketball team, I started to let other people determine my worth and my life,” he said. “I began to lower my standards and became a person I didn’t want to be, just for the approval of others. I was running with the wrong crowd, struggled with addiction and was extremely depressed. I was feeling sorry for myself and wasn’t emotionally strong, so I began to lose hope.
“My parents didn’t recognize the son they had, and I began to isolate myself from my family and even my friends. Eventually, I told my parents that boarding school would be better than living at home with them.”
Kidwai and his mom traveled to southern Utah to Liahona Academy. When the program director asked him whether he loved his mother, he replied in front of her, “No.” The program director then told Kidwai to remember the moment.
“I just thought, ‘Sure.’ Then I got into my uniform, said goodbye and at that point thought I was done with my parents,” he said. “I was 16 and figured I would stay there until I was 18, and then I would be on my own.”
After two days, Kidwai learned that boarding school was far from what he had imagined.
“I would wake up to a man screaming ‘head count’ at 6 a.m. during the weekdays and spend my weekends cleaning the facility and studying. The first month was the worst month of my entire life. I felt alone.”
Kidwai wrote to his parents and apologized for his behavior. When he heard that they still loved and supported him, he felt motivated. After graduation, Kidwai returned home and enrolled at COD, which was his only option but provided a fresh start.
During his first semester, he took Introduction to Human Services, a course that included site visits and service learning hours completed at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) DuPage. NAMI provided Kidwai the opportunity to work with people facing mental illness, and he realized that he wanted to help others.
Kidwai earned straight “A’s” for his first semester and became involved on campus, first with the Muslim Students Association, for which he served as secretary, and then with New Student Orientation.
“When I was in NSO, I got to see the type of leader I wanted to be, so the next year I became an NSO leader and learned about situational leadership,” he said.
Kidwai’s hard work paid off when he was accepted into eight universities. His goal is to become a psychologist, specifically conducting research on treatment outcomes and pathologic disorders.
As for COD, Kidwai made the most of his second chance.
“College of DuPage leveled the playing field for me,” he said. “I came alone to an uncertain environment, but I was only judged by my hard work. COD is a place where students can become their best selves.”
College of DuPage will hold its 53rdannual Commencement ceremony virtually on Thursday, June 11, at 7 p.m. It will be available to view on the College’s Facebook page and on local cable channels. Find out more about Commencement.