Safia Khan and Renee Mecklenburg Are COD’s 2017 Outstanding Graduates
By Brian Kleemann
Safia Khan (above right) and Renee Mecklenburg, both of Lombard, are the 2017 Outstanding Graduates at College of DuPage.
Khan is earning both Associate in Science and Associate in Arts degrees. She will stay at College of DuPage and complete additional science prerequisites before transferring to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she will pursue a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry in hopes of becoming a dentist. Mecklenburg is earning her Associate Degree in Nursing and plans to move to Florida, where she will begin her career while continuing her education.
Khan’s interest in dentistry began in the fourth grade.
“I had five cavities, but I was more intrigued by what the dentist and hygienist were doing and how it was done,” she said. “In high school, I focused on becoming a dentist and was really passionate about it.”
However, after taking the ACT, Khan thought her dream was over because of her score. She changed her focus to nursing and turned to College of DuPage.
“I felt this was the most efficient route for college,” she said. “I would come to COD, take my prerequisites and then transfer. I knew my ACT score would not be a factor, and my siblings attended COD so I was familiar with the school.”
After arriving on campus, Khan saw opportunities all around her and decided to look at College of DuPage as a second chance. She became part of the Honors program and immersed herself in student life. She was president of the Muslim Student Association, joined Phi Theta Kappa, was an orientation leader for New Student Orientation, was elected the Health Science Representative on the Student Leadership Council, and completed the Living Leadership Program.
As part of the Honors Student Advisory Council, she organized the Silent Walk for Unity. The idea came from her Honors Ethics course with Professor Eva Maria Raëpple.
“Students were experiencing feelings of disconnect,” she said. “The intention of the Silent Walk was to let participants know regardless of their gender, religion, race or sexuality that they were all welcome and accepted. The silence signified listening.”
Khan also met a friend, James Halper, who encouraged her to pursue dentistry.
“He said that I was in college only one time in my life, so I might as well do what I love,” she said. “I decided to go for it and began believing that I shouldn’t say ‘no’ to myself when other people do.”
Because of her change in majors, Khan earned two degrees – an Associate in Science and an Associate in Arts. After graduating, she is staying at College of DuPage one more year to complete additional science prerequisites before transferring to the University of Illinois at Chicago. While at COD, Khan will continue her involvement and serve as president of the Student Leadership Council.
“My experience at COD surprised me in a way that I didn’t expected it to,” she said. “I thought I would just transfer and maybe get a job on campus. But I got involved and even was a club officer as a freshman, which wouldn’t have happened at a four-year school. The only way to learn what your limits are is to push past them. I learned what my potential is, so I would tell others to not be afraid to walk through waters of uncertainty.”
Although Mecklenburg was always drawn to the medical field, she initially earned a bachelor’s degree in International Business with a minor in Spanish.
“I was motivated by the monetary rewards of the field,” she said. “But I never truly felt fulfilled. The jobs I had were very impersonal and about data, when I really wanted to work with people.”
Mecklenburg accepted a part-time position at an OB/GYN office and discovered that she enjoyed it more than her previous experiences.
“I was working with patients who were not just a voice over the phone,” she said. “In an OB/GYN office, patients are either enjoying the best moments of their lives or having some of the most gut-wrenching experiences. I learned how to approach each situation and provide the right kind of care. I wanted to be that person to have an impact on someone when their life is in chaos.”
Mecklenburg spoke with her husband, who fully supported her decision to return to school. They sold their house and moved in with family so she could focus on her studies without working full-time.
She selected College of DuPage because of the Nursing program’s strong reputation.
“I heard it was difficult but in a good way, because you want training that truly prepares you,” she said. “The program helps you explore the many avenues of nursing, and I’m now drawn toward becoming an ER nurse because my ER clinical was amazing. I also like the idea of being that first person who provides comfort and guidance when someone comes into the hospital.”
It was Mecklenburg’s nurturing ability that led her fellow students to give her the nickname of “Mama Meck.”
“I don’t want to see anyone fail,” she said. “We all got to this point, we are all strong and we are all intelligent. I was a cheerleader for all of us.”
On campus, Mecklenburg was co-president of the Student Nurses Association and was a member of both Alpha Delta Nu and Phi Theta Kappa honors societies. Her goal is to move to Florida with her family, find a job and then earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
She will always value her time at College of DuPage.
“The professors in the Nursing program are there for you with anything you need, and the facilities are top-notch,” she said. “The sim labs and mannequins provided us with real-life experiences so we could anticipate what we would see in the field.
“I’m 40, a returning student and this is my second career. I have a sense of pride that I did this, and if I can do this, then anybody can.”
The Outstanding Graduate finalists are Stephanie Przybyla (Glendale Heights), Patricia Sarver (Downers Grove) and Bingxin Xu (Glen Ellyn).
College of DuPage is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Serving approximately 28,000 students each term, College of DuPage is the largest public community college in the state of Illinois. The College grants nine associate degrees and offers more than 170 career and technical certificates in over 50 areas of study.
(Photo by Press Photography Network/Special to College of DuPage)
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