- MHCC student Sule Whitlock is named a 2014 New Century scholar

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Sule Whitlock has overcome PTSD and grieving the loss of her mother and husband to become an honors student and active community member.

One night after Mt. Hood Community College’s library closed, Sule (pronounced Shoe-lay, which means flame in Turkish) Whitlock drove out to Oregon City to borrow her son’s computer and finish a paper.

This is just one example of Whitlock’s passion and commitment to studying social work and helping others through their life struggles.

Along with maintaining a 3.87 GPA, serving as president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society at MHCC, volunteering in her church and the community, and raising her 14-year-old daughter as a single parent, Whitlock has overcome post-traumatic stress disorder and the grief of losing her mother and husband within a three-year span.

Whitlock recently was named a 2014 New Century scholar among 51 community college students in the United States, Canada and Somoa.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Whitlock, 45, said, overcome with emotion. “It’s just a really humbling experience. To be recognized like this — to know that people believe in me enough to help me achieve my dream of helping other people — is a dream come true.”

Whitlock was one of more than 1,700 students who were nominated from more than 900 community colleges and is the only Oregon honoree. Judges selected recipients based on their grades, leadership, activities and how their intellectual talents were applied outside the classroom.

Whitlock will receive a $2,000 scholarship and attend the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) convention in Washington, D.C., in April.

She said she dreams of being a donor for other college students someday — to be on the other side and reach out to encourage college students to keep going.

“I feel like a proud papa,” said longtime family friend John Flournoy. “She’s been through an awful lot, but she has really grown into a model of compassion and care for others.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Whitlock dons her Phi Theta Kappa medal. She serves as president of the MHCC honors society.

When Whitlock’s son, Nathaniel, first began college, she didn’t understand how to support him and felt overwhelmed as a first-generation college student. But today, she’s a strong role model for her teenage daughter, Danielle Whitlock.

“She’s had a hard life and dealt with so much,” said Danielle, a freshman at Springwater Trail High School. “Seeing her go through college has changed my life and hers for the better.”

Whitlock is known as the woman who recognizes faces of brand-new students who may have questions. She often approaches them and asks if they need help.

“I am so proud of Sule,” MHCC President Debbie Derr said in a news release. “Despite significant personal challenges, she entered college in her forties, and has never wavered from her educational plan … She will undoubtedly achieve her goal of building a career where she can help guide others to fulfilling lives.”

A second-year student in MHCC’s mental health and human services program, Whitlock plans to transfer to Concordia University to study social work. She dreams of pursing her master’s degree, focusing on helping hospice patients, veterans suffering from PTSD and their families.

Whitlock said she wants to always strive to empower others in their dreams and instill in them a sense of confidence.

“I wish I would have believed in myself more and known that everyone has moments of insecurity,” Whitlock said. “This (education) is one of the best investments I could ever make.”

Overcoming life struggles

In 1992, Whitlock was working at a Depoe Bay bank when a robber held her at gunpoint. He screamed at her to unlock the vault, an experience that has deeply affected her life.

Whitlock shook uncontrollably, trying desperately to insert the key as he ordered her to calm down.

“Those 90 seconds will forever be etched into the fabric of my soul,” Whitlock said in a news release.

After the robber grabbed the money and fled, Whitlock sank to the floor and sobbed. She was unable to open her mail, drive her car or work for several years.

Eventually she was diagnosed with PTSD and could start moving forward.

But dealing with the loss of two loved ones in the early 2000s was an additional struggle.

Whitlock said goodbye to her terminally ill mother in 2002 after helping care for her. Three years later, her husband, Robert, died of complications from pneumonia and a heart attack.

Whitlock and her family made a fresh start, moving from Depoe Bay to the Sandy area and eventually to Gresham.

She became involved in Good Shepherd Community Church’s Celebrate Recovery program and became familiar with Mt. Hood Community College, watching her son’s football games and visiting as a dental patient.

Whitlock’s faith became a huge part of her healing.

“I concentrated on the Lord — on goodness, hope, grace and positive energy,” Whitlock said. “If I stay in the positive energy, I’ll be able to live through the pain. Life is bittersweet.”

Whitlock’s experiences make her dream of becoming a counselor or psychologist.

She credits her advisers, instructors, fellow students and the donors of her scholarships, along with Mt. Hood’s Trio student outreach program and Rho Theta honors society, for helping in her journey.

“I think we should smile at each other more,” Whitlock said. “To realize there are internal things going on that we might not recognize and be understanding of people and always be nicer.”

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