Harvard-bound graduate grateful for RTC’s support

  • Published Thursday, August 22, 2019

Don Hawkins at Renton Technical College, smiling

Growing up in Oklahoma City, Renton Technical College graduate Don Hawkins didn’t seriously consider going to college. Although he was bright and hard-working, college just wasn’t something his family did. After high school, they got jobs.

“The idea was there, but in my family, most of us just go to work after high school,” he said.

That changed at RTC. The first in his family to complete a college degree, Hawkins is now a student at Harvard University. While working the college’s Learning Resource and Career Center, he has been taking online courses at Harvard for the past couple of years. This fall, he moves to Cambridge to complete his bachelor’s degree in economics. He plans to continue graduate school at Harvard as well.

Hawkins is remarkably modest about getting into one of the most elite schools in the country, with an acceptance rate of just 4 percent. He is believed to be the first RTC student to attend Harvard.

“I thought it was time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,” Hawkins said in his characteristically modest manner. “It’s a great opportunity.”

Hawkins first came to RTC when he moved from Oklahoma to Renton at age 20 to live with his father. His dad recommended the college and offered to pay all his expenses. It has been Hawkins’ home ever since.

“When my father said, ‘We’ll take you in, we’ll pay for school and take care of everything,’ I wanted to make sure that investment paid off,” he said. “We didn’t know that investment would lead to Harvard.”

Hawkins graduated from the Entrepreneurship Program, where his love of business and economics grew. As part of his class project, he established a program to provide technical support for students with computer problems. That program, CHIPS (Computer Help & Information Protection Service) continues to thrive today. Hawkins began tutoring students at the LRCC in 2012 and is now the lead tutor. His work at the LRCC is gratifying to him.

“I love watching students grow,” he said.

Don Hawkins with the LRCC team

He chose Harvard, he says, because it’s the best school for economics. His former classmate Joe Spieldenner, who went from RTC to Columbia, encouraged him to aim high. Spieldenner was just one of the people who encouraged Hawkins along the way. He credits the staff in Student Leadership for pushing him to become more involved. The RTC Foundation helped him stay in school when his dad went through medical problems.

“Thanks to RTC and the Foundation, I was able to pay for school,” he said. “I felt welcomed here. It’s a community school. I’m indebted to RTC.”