Davenport student overcomes incredible odds to earn her degree

Seira Jenkins is a first-generation, non-traditional student at Davenport University who was forced to put her dream of attending college on hold for more than ten years because of numerous personal challenges and extreme living conditions. 

Year after year, one roadblock after another was placed in front of her, and while she had every reason to give up, she didn’t. She remained determined through it all and persevered against everything that stood in her way. 

In just a few short years, she will finally realize her dream of graduating from college and will be presented with not one but two degrees from Davenport University.

Jenkins was born in a remote mountain village in Mexico, which still has no running water, paved roads, or electricity. The living conditions were deplorable. She was born into poverty so extreme that her family did not have access to food, clean water or medicine. The family home was made of tin and infested with scorpions and mosquitos, so disease was an ongoing concern. 

After many years of constant struggle, her father moved the family to the U.S. The move to Phoenix, Arizona, was a positive one, but it meant they had to start over with nothing except a deep desire for a better life and the second-hand clothes on their backs.

Life in America was a definite improvement over their life in Mexico, but it was anything but easy, especially for Jenkins, the eldest of three children. She was the only one in her family who spoke English, which meant they depended on her for survival. This was an incredible burden for the five-year-old to bear. 

She was forced to become the family’s legal representative, teacher, and financial expert. She filled out job applications for her parents, translated job offers for her dad, and even accompanied him on job interviews. She taught her mother how to read and write English and Spanish and became her parent’s protector to ensure they weren’t taken advantage of. 

“These responsibilities not only added a lot of stress, pressure, and work for me but also forced me to solve adult problems as a young child and grow up very quickly,” said Jenkins. The need to support my family in this way robbed me of a childhood, and the extreme poverty we lived in denied me the right to a ‘normal’ life.”

Jenkins’ father tried tirelessly to find a job to support his family, but he was forced to take low-paying seasonal and entry-level jobs because of his lack of education and broken English. As a result, he made just enough money to put food on the table. 

By the time Jenkins was 18, she was the sole financial provider for her family of five, and her goal of going to college seemed unattainable.  She had three part-time jobs and no car, so she relied on friends to get her to and from work.

“This was a very painful time for me because I always loved school and graduated from high school with high honors,” said Jenkins. “Eventually, I was able to stabilize my family’s finances, which motivated me not to give up on college.”

The opportunity she had waited so long for finally came when she was 28.

“I researched different colleges and chose Davenport because it had the most flexible and complete accounting program I could find,” said Jenkins. “Even though I live in Arizona, I can attend classes online, so that option is a definite plus.”

Jenkins received several scholarships to help offset the cost of going to college, including the  Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society scholarship and the Eileen J. DeVries First-Generation Annual Scholarship. 

“Receiving these scholarships was life-changing for me because it means I don’t have to worry about finances so much and can concentrate on my classes,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins has had many positive experiences during her time at Davenport, but one, in particular, made a lasting impression. In May 2023, she received a full scholarship to participate in Davenport’s European Study Abroad Trip, thanks to the generosity of the Eileen J. DeVries Foundation and the Eileen J. DeVries Study Abroad Award. 

Students who receive the Eileen J. DeVries First-Generation Annual Scholarship, like Jenkins, are eligible to apply for the Eileen J. DeVries Study Abroad Award. Jenkins said applying for the award was one of the best decisions she ever made.

“The European Study Abroad Trip was an experience I’ll never forget,” said Jenkins. “It was amazing to know that a once barefoot and hungry child was standing in a European palace and that I was walking where kings and queens had once walked. This realization brought tears to my eyes, and at first, I felt like I didn’t belong there. However, my mentors on the trip helped me understand that I had earned the right to be there. The trip was my reward for spending my entire life worrying about and caring for others. This was the first time I had done something just for myself,” she said. 

Jenkins said the European Study Abroad Trip would not have been possible without the Eileen J. DeVries Study Abroad Award, and she is incredibly grateful for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

“It’s hard to express how meaningful that trip was for me,” said Jenkins. “I can’t thank the donor enough.”

Rachel Mraz, the daughter of Eileen DeVries, and a dedicated Davenport University Foundation board member, said her late mother would be thrilled that Seira was able to have the travel experience she did.

“She loved experiencing different cultures and meeting new people, and fostering those possibilities for others would bring her as much joy as it does the scholarship recipients, and especially Seira,” said Mraz.

Jenkins admits her life can be hectic at times, juggling a full-time job and college, but she says it’s well worth it. She is now on track to graduate with her bachelor’s in business administration and master’s in accounting in 2026/2027. She plans to use her education to open doors to better-paying jobs so she can provide financial stability for her family.

“We came to this country with just the clothes on our backs and no money,” Jenkins said. “We have worked extremely hard to achieve the American dream and to become people who proudly contribute our many talents to the country that made our dreams come true,” she said.  

To be clear, Jenkins doesn’t want people to feel sorry for her; instead, she hopes her story can motivate others to never give up on their goals and aspirations, no matter what obstacles stand in their way. 



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