In 2001, Marina Vogt moved from Bulgaria to the United States to be with her husband. Living in New York, she struggled those early years trying to care for their children, work and learn the English language.
Vogt has come a long way since that difficult time. Vogt and fellow Rio Salado student Alexandra Bird were recently selected as the college's nominees to the All-Arizona Academic Team.
The program recognizes the best and brightest community college students across the state, based on their grades, leadership, community service efforts and recommendation letters.
Honorees, who are often members of the Phi Theta Kappa Society, a national community college organization, receive full-tuition waivers to any Arizona public university as well as cash stipends.
"It felt good," Vogt said. "It was very surprising. I was flattered and very happy they chose me."
In February, Vogt and team members selected from community colleges across the state will be recognized at an awards banquet being held at the Fiesta Inn Resort in Tempe. There they will learn if they are ranked on the first-, second- or third-place teams, receiving $1,000, $750 or $500 stipends, respectively.
Phi Theta Kappa, two-year college presidents and community college state associations sponsor competitions offered in 36 states. Bird, vice president of service for Rio's Alpha Theta Omicron chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, has a 4.0 grade-point average. She will graduate in May with an associate degree. Her career goal is to be an archaeologist or a cultural anthropologist.
Vogt, 36, a mother of two, has a 4.0 grade-point average. A longtime dental assistant, she plans to graduate in May with an associate in applied science degree in dental hygiene. She is vice president of Rio Salado's Phi Theta Kappa Society.
The two students' grades, strong leadership and heavy community service involvement made it easy to select them for the team, said Janine Adkins, Rio Salado Phi Theta Kappa Society lead faculty adviser.
"It is extremely difficult to find students who have a 4.0 who have taken such a wide array of classes," said Adkins, who is also Rio Salado's faculty chairwoman for humanities and history. "Knowing the community service work they've done and the excellent leadership they have demonstrated further validated that they are the perfect choice."
Vogt, who had previously worked as an architect in her native Russia, moved with her family from New York to Arizona in 2004.
"I was looking for jobs," Vogt said. "I knew I had to start at some kind of school."
She worked at a dentist's office and immediately liked helping patients.
Vogt found an online chemistry class at Rio Salado in 2006 and has been hooked on the college ever since.
She loves assisting patients with their oral hygiene at Rio Salado's dental hygiene clinic in downtown Phoenix and at a veterans' hospital, Boys and Girls Club and other organizations.
Part of a rapidly growing field, dental hygienists provide preventive dental care to patients and teach them good oral-health practices.
"You have to have constant concentration and you have to be very organized," Vogt said. "I love everything we study."
She and the other students on state academic teams are also nominated to the All-USA Academic Team, where they could earn more cash stipends.
Vogt plans to use her tuition waiver to attend Northern Arizona University, where she wants to pursue a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene. Eventually, she wants to become a dentist.
Rio Salado annually serves more than 60,000 students, more than 30,000 of which are online. One of the 10 Maricopa Community Colleges, Rio Salado offers classes in the general education courses including English, math, science, history and also a variety of degrees and certificates. For course registration or more information about programs call 480-517-8540 or go to www.riosalado.edu/registration.