Navia Winderling's (SIAS '14) long path through higher education helps her inspire other students to succeed.
Navia Winderling tried.
“UWT took a chance on a crappy student,” said Winderling. “I felt like their admissions process was “We think you can do this.’”
Winderling could do it. In fact, she did it — twice. The now thirty-something completed a bachelor’s in communication at UW Tacoma and later earned a master’s in higher education from Arizona State University.
There’s a Sisyphean element to Winderling’s story. In Greek mythology Sisyphus is punished by Hades and sentenced to an eternity of trying, but never succeeding in his countless attempts to roll a massive boulder up a hill. Each time he’d get this close before the enormous stone would give way and roll back down.
Here’s the difference.
Sisyphus never really stood a chance, someone always had their thumb on the scale. Also, he had to go it alone. No one ever stepped in to help Sisyphus.
Neither of these things were true for Navia Winderling.
Born in Tacoma, Winderling spent most of her formative years in Steilacoom. Winderling graduated high school in 2005. “I was an okay student,” she said. “I remember in my senior year I was voted Miss Sentinel — sentinel is the school’s mascot — which meant I had the most spirit.”
Winderling is a first-generation college student. “I didn’t understand the college search process,” she said. “My parents and I were so overwhelmed with trying to figure out where to go and what to do.” Winderling ended up applying to two schools. “I picked the schools that my best friends applied to, she said.
Winderling got accepted to Central Washington University in Ellensburg. “I didn’t realize that Central was two hours from home and was a bigger school than anything I’d experienced before,” she said. “I definitely failed at least one class my first quarter — it was rough.”
By the end of the academic year Winderling decided she needed to start again. “I withdrew at the end of spring quarter,” she said. Winderling moved back to Steilacoom, accepted a job at the YMCA and began taking classes at Pierce College. “I failed out of Pierce,” she said.
Tumbled, picked up speed and seemed to roll forever before coming to rest at the beginning.
Working Toward School
Winderling took a break from pushing. She decided to work full-time, first at the YMCA then later at a coffee shop. “I loved slinging drinks but I wanted to move out on my own, so I needed to make more money,” said Winderling.
Winderling’s mother worked for the Washington State Department of Corrections. “She told me about some job openings at the corrections center on McNeil Island,” said Winderling. “I ended up with a position in the Office of Community Involvement at McNeil.”
The bulk of Winderling’s early work involved coordinating events and helping run programs housed at the facility. “We did a program called ‘Read to Me Daddy’ where we recorded fathers reading children’s books,” she said. “We sent those recordings to their child so the child could listen to their father read them a bedtime story.”
Winderling did this work for a year. “I saw that there were openings for corrections officers at the women’s prison in Purdy and I decided to apply,” she said. Winderling got the job. “Being a corrections officers taught me a lot about communication. I learned a lot about myself and went away with the understanding that everyone is human and that if you are respectful to people, they will be respectful to you.”
It had been a few years since Winderling left college. A lot had changed since that moment. For one, Winderling gained life experience and developed a confidence in herself. She’d also met someone. “I met my husband at the Swiss,” she said. “He went to Pacific Lutheran University and really inspired me to go back to school.”
Winderling took a voluntary layoff from the corrections center and enrolled at Tacoma Community College. “I went there [TCC] to finish some classes before I transferred to UW Tacoma,” she said. “From talking to admissions counselors, I knew this campus was the right choice for me.”
And that boulder, more like a pebble now.
“I was a good student here,” said Winderling. “I made the Dean’s List, I did internships and graduated with honors. I know it’s because people on this campus took me under their wing.”
Winderling learned both in and out of the classroom. “I had a job in the financial aid office,” she said. “Tori Hill [former staff member] overheard me talking to a student. She popped in and told me ‘Navia, have you ever thought about doing this as a job?’”
As it turns out, Winderling had never considered working in higher education. After graduation, she started at Pierce College as a financial aid counselor. “I stayed there for a little while then got a call asking if I wanted to work at UW Tacoma as a program assistant in the School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences. I had such a great experience here as a student that I jumped at the chance to come back.”
Over the Top
Jump forward a few years and Winderling is working for the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. “I helped coordinate the rotations and internships for the students,” she said. “I loved it but hated the commute.” To get to Seattle, Winderling would wake up early to ensure she could catch the bus north. The daily grind left plenty of room for reflection. “I ended up thinking that I wanted to go to grad school.”
Winderling and her husband moved to Tempe, Arizona so she could get a master’s degree in higher education at Arizona State University (ASU). Winderling served as an academic advisor at ASU while she chipped away at her degree. “I could have stayed,” she said. “We went into that experience thinking it would be temporary, that we would move back close to family.”
The couple did indeed move back to Washington. “By then I knew I was going to make higher education my career,” she said. “There was only one school I wanted to work for.”
Winderling returned to UW Tacoma in 2017. She is currently the assistant director of admissions, marketing & communications. “The biggest part of what I do involves marketing and communication for prospective students,” she said.
It’s important to remember that Winderling was named Miss Sentinel of her high school graduating class. That award goes to the person with the most spirit. If you’ve met Winderling, you know she has an energy that is amiable and inviting without being overwhelming. That energy is felt by prospective students. “A student will meet with me and tell me they had a really terrible first couple years in college and I’ll talk to them about my experience,” she said. “It’s crazy that some of the students we meet with just don’t believe that they, one, can get admitted and two, can succeed. I know they can do well here and I know they will have the support they need to make that happen.”
Winderling is right there helping others push it over the top.
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