Marseilles woman wins Paul Simon Student Essay Contest

Nasrina Bellel first IVCC student to win statewide award

Illinois Valley Community College student Nasrina Bellel of Marseilles was honored Thursday night for winning the Illinois Community College Trustees Association Paul Simon Student Essay Contest.

Bellel, a single mother of five and a small-business owner, read her essay at the college’s May 16 virtual commencement ceremony. In the essay, she said she was at a low point in her life when she applied to IVCC in 2019.

During the monthly IVCC board meeting, Bellel read her “story of hope restored” to trustees.

“The life I had worked dutifully on for years was fractured. I felt hopeless. I was unsure how much I would be able to accomplish with a high school diploma issued 14 years ago, limited employment history and a struggling small business. I was terrified at the notion of starting over, yet I knew moving forward was the only way back to the real me – the person with hopes and dreams beyond the title of wife or mother,” she said.

“Acceptance into IVCC did just that. It reignited a spark in me that I hadn’t felt in years. Everybody I’ve met, from the instructors and advisers to the security guard who directed me to [the] bookstore, have been kind, caring and helpful. Becoming a student at IVCC has changed my life immeasurably in a mere matter of months. It has restored my self-worth and placed me on a path lined with attainable goals to help shape my future and ensure my success.

“I’ve never felt more driven or confident in my own ability to create a better life for my children and myself,” Bellel said.

IVCC board chairwoman Jane Goetz said Bellel is the first IVCC student to earn the statewide Simon award but not the first to have her life transformed by the college.

“Nasrina, your essay is representative of the experience of so many of our students,” Goetz said. “You came to IVCC in search of hope, direction and a promising future. You received all three from our talented and supportive faculty and staff. Thank you for sharing your beautifully moving and inspirational story.”

ICCTA President Jon Looney awarded Bellel a certificate and $500 check. He was accompanied by ICCTA Director of Finance Stephanie Spann and Director of Communication Kim Villanueva.

Looney said Bellel’s essay was a “story of hope restored,” adding, “You are the reason why colleges like IVCC exist.”