Newman Civic Fellow, Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholar Semifinalist, college student, CCC Luminary Award recipient, mom, and soon paralegal – it seems there is nothing that Heather Atherton can’t do.

After graduating high school and having her daughter, Heather worked in the food service industry for more than a decade before she decided she needed to make a change. Her parents, who hadn’t been able to go to college themselves, always impressed on her the importance of a college education. She wanted to go to college, but wasn’t sure what she wanted to study until she talked with a friend who was studying to be a paralegal at Wright College.

“Being a paralegal seemed like a stable job and I had always been interested in law. When my friend highly recommended the program he was in at Wright, I made the move,” explained Heather.

One semester at Wright gave her the confidence to quit what was, in her own words, a “horrible job.”

She appreciated the faculty, who were all attorneys and taught her exactly what would be expected of her in the field from their firsthand experiences. Not only did she excel in her school work while raising her daughter as a single mom, she also jumped into civic engagement in her community as an election judge and helping people register to vote. When her political science teacher suggested she apply for the Newman Civic Fellowship, which recognizes and supports community-committed students who are changemakers and public problem-solvers, she applied and was accepted.

Now, she is working on creating a civic engagement scorecard that would show students different ways to get engaged in their community through classes and service learning. She is also wrapping up her last semester in Wright’s paralegal program and applying to transfer destinations. Ultimately, she sees a future in legal and civic matters. Originally, she planned to stay in Chicago but if she receives the Jack Kent Cooke Transfer Scholarship, her horizons could be a little broader.

“I’ve been hearing from schools like Yale, so why not? Why not apply and why not me?” she said.

Indeed – we can’t wait to see what Heather does next.

You can watch a quick Luminary Award video about Heather here, and learn more about the paralegal program at Wright College here.


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