Kent graduate opens success center despite stage-four cancer



Chloe Forbes

Kent State alumnus is determined to chase her dreams, and not even stage-four breast cancer will stop her.

Christine Vodicka, who graduated in 2002, is spending her time left providing free tutoring at her own learning center in Middleburg Heights.

“My mission is not done yet, I still have a lot to do,” she said.

Her story begins in 2013, when she was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. Since then, she has had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, followed by intense chemotherapy and radiation.

It wasn’t gone for long. Driven to the emergency room because of excruciating back pain in 2015, Vodicka learned her cancer had returned, and this time it was stage four. The tumor was already so massive it was decaying the vertebrae in her back.

To the surprise of many, it was the same year she opened an all-inclusive success center.

Located in Middleburg Heights, Ohio, College Colleagues is an environment for students to learn study skills, receive academic assistance and have a chance to better themselves in the process.

She opened the center because she wants to help others develop a love of learning.

“I think that anyone can be successful and I’m trying to foster that love in them,” Vodicka said. “I feel like I’m carrying out my mission, and that’s helping me heal.”

Erin Green was a student at Cleveland State University who struggled to balance collegiate athletics with classes. She didn’t know how to prioritize and organize her work when she first met Vodicka. Her grades went from failing to a C and B average in just one semester after meeting with Vodicka once a week.

Green said Vodicka was the person who helped her through college with goals, organizational help and general life skill coaching.

“Besides my mother, Christine is the reason I am a college graduate and hold a master’s degree. Without her, I’m not sure where I would be. Her motivation and never give up attitude are just a few of the amazing attributes she has to offer,” Green said.

Vodicka graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in art education and a master’s degree in education. Despite these accomplishments, she wasn’t always the best in her class. She struggled her first semester of college until she met Robin Wisniewski, a tutor that completely changed Vodicka’s outlook on learning.

Wisniewski recognized Vodicka’s strengths and introduced different approaches to her that better fit her learning style. Vodicka said Wisniewski was more than a tutor, she was Vodicka’s mentor and cheerleader throughout her college career.

By her second semester, Vodicka had changed her habits and started working at the academic success center on campus as the youngest person on staff. That was the beginning of 20 years of experience in success centers, prior to opening her own.

She said the key to her success is, “to stay true to what I wanted to do.”

Vodicka believes that each student should have their own special experience at College Colleagues because each one of the students she meets is unique.

Aromatherapy diffusers, soft therapeutic music, monthly art classes for kids and a coffee bar for adults are all part of the holistic experience that sets College Colleagues apart.

Going to the center each day has helped her stay motivated during hard times. She makes sure she surrounds herself with positive mantras and schedules at least one thing a day to look forward to.

“You’ve been given this hand so now you have to make the best of it,” Vodicka said. “I still have things to share, and I still have people to help.”

She has become skilled at turning a negative thought into a positive one, which she attributes to many self-help books and caring friends.

In addition, Vodicka added that the most rewarding part about teaching isn’t only the growth and improvement in a student, but the connections she is able to make with them. Because she does not have the ability to have children, she says she has been blessed by being able to still have kids in her life that she is able to help and connect with.

“You face challenges and you think, ‘How do I want to be remembered?’” she said.

Chloe Forbes is a feature writer. Contact her at [email protected].