Commencement Feature: Monika Koshinski

Monika Koshinski poses for a graduation photo outside, smiling and wearing a green TMCC t-shirt and black pants.
Jared Libby

Our TMCC community treasures the diverse and breathtaking stories our students share with us. They discover freedom through higher education, rewarding them with fulfilling lives that have come full circle. Happiness swaddles them up like a snug blanket at the thought of graduation, bringing tears to their eyes when they reflect on persevering through such unimaginable personal hardship. Here is the first story in an unforgettable series of student successes in the Class of 2024.

Monika Koshinski (Mk, as she prefers) has a tale that will resonate, especially with those who mistakenly or cautiously believe they can’t or shouldn’t attend college. Her passion for learning redeemed the vulnerable young girl who made all the wrong choices and began a meaningful transformation she fights boldly to sustain every day of her existence. Her foremost goal is a healthy and meaningful life, and what a journey it’s been to reach this milestone finally.

Believe You Can, and You’re Halfway There

A Reno native, Mk enrolled in TMCC High School in 2000 when she was 16. This educational leap would be short-lived, however, as she suffered from a severe alcohol and drug problem starting when she was 12. They controlled her reality, the dependency on a razor’s edge ready to destroy any semblance of stability. Her parents tried their best. Her mother greatly supported her literacy, even getting an Encyclopedia Britannica salesperson job. Reading, writing, and studying were encouraged, and while not your traditional exposure, a strong foundation bloomed. It, too, would not survive. When vices stranglehold your schooling, you tend to abandon it. Time passes, and you realize the problem is inside you, not one you can evade.

“I actively work on my recovery every single day. School, my family, nothing comes first in my life besides that. All those other aspects are gifts for me working my program,” Mk said.

Fast forward to Mk’s early thirties and a four-year sobriety stint. Reigniting her academic ambitions, she gave it another go in 2013. A looming reservation worried her, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. The temptation to drink never fully released her from its clutches, and she’d make excuses to justify its presence. She was falling into the same sinister trap. Help was nowhere in sight, and she needed a solution, so she replaced one substance with another: medical marijuana. Shortly after getting her card, she ditched all her studies in search of a carefree lifestyle, but this would ultimately be her downfall. It was an abyssal bottom, with no roof over her head, food to eat regularly, or income stream to safeguard her well-being.

“In 2019, I had nothing except for the contents of a small backpack. As far as how I could live, I didn’t know. It’s so funny cause in recovery meetings, there’s this saying, ‘Keep coming back. It works if you work it.’ So I kept showing up, and after I did that, other things started becoming more solid and clear in my life,” Mk said.

The process benefited her, and in 2022, Mk became a manager in a couple of local shops: Replenish Refillery & Gift and Mo, Jo, & Zoe. She adored the owner, Melinda Brown, and employment suited her. She kindled a purpose and closeness with them. In July 2023, she received the unfortunate news they were closing, and only Mo, Jo, & Zoe would be relocating to their original spot in Truckee, so she hunted for a new position. Little did she know how difficult it would be to find one without a certificate or degree. She seemed stuck without having grown her collegiate skills.

“I couldn’t move,” Mk said. Then, an inner voice rallied her to pick up the telephone and call TMCC. So she did. Initially, advisors presented her with the Paralegal or Business programs, but after conducting thorough research on Google, she confidently decided to pursue a one-year Business FastTrack degree. Significant improvements in her situation strengthened this promising path forward, and she’s recently earned her license as a sole proprietor: Mk, an individual entrepreneur. The chips were falling into place, and it was clear that this was her calling.

“I had no idea until I went to orientation that I was in the first pilot group to complete this program. It offered me so much support. It’s wild because if you said I would be in school and graduating a year ago, I’d say, ‘No way.’ It’s surreal. I’m taking it one step at a time. That’s the best way I can say,” Mk said.

“The moment I’m facing right now with my graduation from TMCC is something I never imagined possible. At one point in my life, I wanted it so badly, but once I hit rock bottom, I had nothing but that backpack, and I didn’t know how I would work at a simple job. It’s not that I can’t do it, but education just wasn’t there. It felt as far away as Jupiter,” Mk continued.

Mk will be one of the inaugural Business FastTrack graduates, standing proudly on the Commencement 2024 stage on May 10. “If there’s one person who has had the most impact on me, it would be Fayth Ross. She has been my mentor through this entire process,” Mk said.

Whether pleasantly riding her bicycle for healthy exercise, volunteering at the box office for the Brüka Theatre downtown, or watering and weeding a community garden for Soulful Seeds, she’s thriving and building a better future. Allowing herself to learn by squashing preconceived notions, her outlook is unequivocally open to receiving instruction as she continues her courses at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“My favorite mantra is, ‘It’s all about progress, not perfection,’” Mk said. A well-deserved vacation to Mexico awaits her this summer, where she can soak up the sun and celebrate conquering her adversities. She need only remember and glance at her newly achieved Business Associate of Arts Degree. Mk’s experience reminds us of higher education’s restorative powers for students with regrettable backstories. You are worth it.

“A cousin of mine told me, ‘You are making history.’ I almost started crying when she said that because it was so true. It’s not only that I’m part of the first Business FastTrack cohort. I’m the first person in my immediate family to walk across the stage and get my college degree,” Mk said.

For more information about the Class of 2024, please visit the Commencement website.