Kaci Maris, of Dickinson, is used to competition for the highest grades.

“My kids compete with me, especially my son in fourth grade. They want to see my report cards. Whoever loses has to pay for Chuck E. Cheese's (though Dad usually pays),” said Maris.

Now Maris has been selected in a nationwide competition as a 2017 Coca-Cola Community College Academic Team Gold Scholar. She was among 1,800 applicants and is one of only four students in Texas to receive a $1,500 scholarship.  

“The Coca-Cola Scholarship opens the door for other scholarships. You get pursued by other universities like Cornell,” said Maris.

COM administrators nominated her for the award.

“Professors see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. They push you in a good way. Adjunct professor Sheila Wall sent flowers to the hotel when I got the award,” said Maris.

Maris also recently won the Texas Academic Team Award as one of the top 100 community college scholars in the state. 

A mother of three, she was motivated to return to college in 2015. 

“I’ve been in the workplace. I knew I would need a degree or certificate to advance,” said Maris. “A lot of adjunct professors [also working in business] can pair you with their contacts. Many of the faculty could be at a four-year university but they choose to be here because they love community college. We have so much dedication and support.”

Maris excelled in classes and earned a spot in Phi Theta Kappa, the international community college honor society.

Last year, she was elected president of COM’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa.

She and other members have researched an issue in the community and chose to focus on political involvement for their Honors in Action Project.  

“Our research showed that few people in the area vote in local elections. We’re hosting town halls open to the community with several local politicians and COM board of trustee candidates to see how politics affects the community,” said Maris. 

Phi Theta Kappa has expanded Maris’ opportunities such as attending the Honors Institute at Wake Forest University in North Carolina.  At the weeklong conference she learned alongside other Phi Theta Kappa students from across the U.S.

“PTK has helped not only with networking and scholarships but we’ve made friends we would have never made otherwise,” said Maris.

Maris has also been selected as one of Phi Theta Kappa’s 2017 Distinguished Chapter Officers by a panel of judges from over 391 nominees internationally. Distinguished Chapter Officers are awarded based on their demonstration of leadership, promotion of Honors in Action Projects and enthusiasm for the Hallmarks of the Society (scholarship, leadership, service and fellowship).

Maris will graduate from COM this May with an Associate of Applied Science in business management with her children watching. 

“They see you work hard. My daughter says she wants to be a PTK president when she grows up,” said Maris.