Marianne Vesich, recipient of York Tech’s 2023 Outstanding Humanities and Social Sciences Student Award, with advisor Wesley Spinks (left) and instructor and nominator Peter Baldwin (right)

Marianne Vesich

York Technical College

"I’m at a point in life where my proudest accomplishment is still being accomplished."

If we could describe Marianne Vesich in one word, it would be “brave.” Since graduating high school, she has been confronted with pivotal opportunities to use her voice, advocate for herself, and grow in self-confidence. Sure, this comes with age and experience. But her time at York Tech has also been instrumental in growing her as a person, a student, and an artist.

How did your post-high school work experience point you to York Tech?

I started working as a barista in a grocery store coffeeshop not long after high school graduation, and I was obsessed with being the best – always striving for perfection and hoping for recognition. But instead of channeling that ambition into furthering myself, I was focused on furthering the company.

The recognition rarely came; instead, I was “rewarded” with more work because my employer saw that I could handle it. And it certainly was not reflected in the pay. Going above and beyond had only gotten me a $3.10 raise in just shy of eight years.

It was time for me to make a change. I was faced with a choice between finding another dead-end, low-paying job or furthering my education to land a more fulfilling, higher-paying job.

I had heard about York Tech in high school – it’s one of the closest colleges in my area. And it was essentially free for me to attend. So I decided to go the Associate of Arts route with the intent to transfer to Winthrop University and major in Illustration Design.

Those plans have since changed – in fact, they changed nearly every semester! – but my advisor, Wesley Spinks, assured me that part of going to college is changing your mind, and he helped me adjust my path at York Tech every single time. I owe a lot of my academic success to him and would encourage prospective students to work closely with their advisor so that they can create an individualized path for success.

Making a life change like that – from the workforce to higher education – always takes courage. So does taking a class that is completely outside of your comfort zone. Tell us about Public Speaking.

I tried so hard to get out of that class! I was terrified of speaking in front of an audience, and I even considered getting a doctor’s note to get out of it. But my instructor, David Bender, created such a relaxed and fun classroom environment, and he understood that public speaking is difficult for most students. He met us with humor as well, which is important to me in frightening situations.

Ironically, I did my final speech on why public speaking should continue to be a requirement in higher education, even though I would have argued the opposite only eight weeks prior. I had to start small and be patient with myself, but Mr. Bender taught me that the more I use my voice in low-stakes situations, the braver I would feel over time.

And you had an incident earlier this year where you had to use your voice and advocate for yourself in the workplace.

Yes. I’ve always been fearful of confrontation, and even though I’ve wanted to speak up – set boundaries, stand up for myself, etc. – it has often felt impossible. When I started therapy in 2018, I began to practice using my voice in small, safe ways. Over time, these tiny moments became more powerful than my fear of being heard.

In 2023, I hit a turning point where I was faced with an injustice in the workplace. I worked at a small business as a cashier and barista, but I had also done countless art projects for the business, including hand-lettering all the signage in the store, from small signs to windows to full menu boards.

They had asked me to design a logo for an event they were hosting, and they promised me a large sum of money for a bundle of stickers that featured this logo. When the time came for me to be paid, they recanted on their promise and told me I must have confused their words. However, I had text proof of the agreement and was able to advocate for myself, use my voice, and speak my truth in this situation. Being able to do that showed me how much I’d grown over the past several years.

You’ve also grown as an artist. Give us a glimpse of that journey.

I’ve always loved to draw – specifically animals. I believe this passion comes from the books my mom read to me growing up. Some of my favorites were Stellaluna and Is Your Mama a Llama?, and they have inspired The Kiwi Forest, my personal brand and business where I create and sell my art, as well as designs commissioned by small businesses and individual clients.

I feel most fulfilled when I am creating, and I have achieved many milestones, such as engaging in drawing challenges, designing stickers for small businesses, and participating in craft shows. Not only have I worked to perfect my technical drawing skills, use of color, and personal style, but I am also interested in learning how to market myself and my art. Creating comes easily to me, but there is a science to getting your art noticed by employers and on social media.

That’s part of the reason why my plans changed after graduating from York Tech. The tuition at Winthrop – even with financial aid – was just not doable for me. So I’m excited to be returning to York Tech to pursue a second associate degree in Applied Science Digital Arts!

As for my future, I would love to work in a creative field, but I also enjoy work that involves organization and order. Ideally, I will be self-employed (at least on the side) by having an online shop and social media presence. I also hope that I will be able to stand firmly on my own two feet, be financially comfortable, and feel fulfilled in my career with a good work-life balance.

Higher education has given me the opportunity to find myself and push through many challenges, including time and stress management, academic growth, and public speaking. I’m at a point in life where my proudest accomplishment is still being accomplished.