June 4, 2023

Washburn University grad speaks of importance of education at Wednesday breakfast

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) – A first-generation college graduate credits her Washburn University education for helping her become a leader in the Topeka community.

Janice Watkins spoke about the importance of earning her college degree during the “Wake Up With Washburn” breakfast Wednesday morning in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center, near S.W. 17th and Jewell on the Washburn University campus.

About 100 people attended the “Wake Up With Washburn” breakfast, one of four held each year on the university campus.

Watkins, who is the chief executive officer of Topeka Habitat for Humanity, spoke about how her Washburn University education helped her become a community leader.

A 2000 graduate of Hayden High School, Watkins said she was headed to a private college in Chicago when she found out she was pregnant.

She returned to Topeka, where she gave birth to her son, Gabriel, when she was 18.

Watkins said she was determined to graduate from college. She credited her family with encouraging her to go to Washburn and earn her degree.

“I was a single mom when I enrolled at Washburn in 2001,” Watkins said, “and I think that my success is really attributed to a strong foundation.

“I had an enormous family of supporters. The support of the Washburn Women’s Alliance Foundation, which I’m president of this year, and an incredible amount of support from professors and staff at Washburn really led me to latch onto the empowerment of education and become successful in the community.”

Several of Watkns’ family members followed her example and also have become Washburn University graduates.

Watkins said she encourages single parents to pursue their education.

“My advice for others is to find a good support system or to be that for someone else,” she said. “We cannot thrive without a solid foundation, so offering your expertise, skills, a listening ear and a caring heart to another can be the driving force that someone needs to change their life or the lives of others.”

Watkins said she learned the value of serving the Topeka community through the example set by her grandmother, the late Marg Roberts, who founded the Let’s Help social service agency.

Washburn University officials said individuals are considered first-generation students if neither of their parents or guardians completed a bachelor’s degree, regardless of siblings or other relatives.

For more information, visit www.washburn.edu/firstgeneration.