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Hailey Sadowski

A.S. Business Administration 2022

Hailey Sadowski standing under OCC's Archway

When Hailey Sadowski initially applied to OCC, she intended to get in, get her degree, and get out. She wasn’t planning to join clubs, win awards, or get involved in student government, and she certainly didn’t plan to address the Class of 2022 from the Commencement stage.

“I was just winging it,” Sadowski said, describing those early days. “I never planned for any of this.” But a pattern soon emerged that would carry her through the next two years, driving her toward a success she had never imagined. “People present opportunities to me, and I say ‘sure’– and from there it just kind of snowballs into something bigger each time.”

Her first instinct, on learning that she had been nominated for Commencement Speaker, was to turn it down flat.

“I had to say no,” she recalled, adding that the idea of giving a speech was “petrifying.”

But then she thought about the advice she could give—not just to other graduates, but to anyone who might be watching and wondering if they could do it, too. As a first-generation college student, she knew how hard it can be to figure things out on your own.

“It’s definitely tough, especially when you first start. That’s the hardest part—figuring out the FAFSA, how to apply, and how to pick your degree path. But once you start that process, it gets easier, because you get connected with the proper resources.” Sadowski initially decided to give OCC a try after seeing a cousin earn her degree in 2020. “When I saw her graduate, that’s when I kind of decided,” she explained. “She was able to help me out with the FAFSA, and after that, I just started making appointments. It was definitely unsettling, but once I got the groove of it, I figured it out along the way.” Sadowski connected with the Educational Opportunity Fund, a program that provides funding and other services to income-eligible students who are motivated to go to college. EOF offers financial and academic resources, such as tutoring and academic advising, as well as a network of support on campus. That support gave Sadowski the confidence to stay focused on her goal, even during the pandemic.

“I thrived as an online student,” she said, noting that having to schedule her readings and plan out her work helped her learn self-discipline while being in lockdown prevented her from encountering too many distractions.

It was through one of her online classes that Sadowski met Laura Wagner, an adjunct professor at OCC and the Director of Marketing and Development at Northern Ocean Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that builds affordable homes for families in need of a decent place to live.

Even in the virtual classroom, “Hailey really popped out to me,” said Wagner. Sadowski’s papers displayed strong attention to detail, meticulous research, and a talent for critical thinking. Wagner invited her to intern at Habitat for Humanity over the summer to help them build a marketing plan. Eager to explore marketing as a potential career path, Sadowski agreed to give it a try. As summer turned into fall, she stuck with it, learning to develop marketing strategies, perform grant research, and solicit sponsorships.

“She was just phenomenal,” Wagner said. “She wanted to learn everything about Habitat for Humanity. She even offered to make cold calls.”

It was during a community fundraising event when Sadowski got the idea to bring Habitat for Humanity to OCC.

“I saw that a lot of other campuses around us had a Habitat chapter,” she said in an interview with OCC’s Student Life. “I thought, I would love OCC to have that kind of representation in the community with this nonprofit. I decided to see if I could create a club and get students involved.”

“Hailey is big on motivating others,” said Wagner, adding that the club took off quickly under her leadership. “She’s excited to share opportunities with other people. She’s definitely a leader. She makes things happen.”

The club held its first meeting on St. Patrick’s Day, and by April, members were participating as a group in Habitat’s bingo fundraiser. “It was kind of like trial by fire,” Sadowski says of that first event. Despite their inexperience, she is proud of how the club members represented OCC that day. She kept the momentum going by organizing a multi-club, offsite event in May, another first for OCC. By the end of the term, the club had grown to 30 members, an impressive number even by Sadowski’s standards.

“To have it be this successful was definitely shocking,” she admitted, although she is quick to add that she’s not finished yet. “There’s definitely a lot of plans.” Although she won’t be a student at OCC next year, she intends to serve as chair to help keep the club active and guide the next generation of officers. She also hopes the club can participate in Habitat on the Hill, a conference in Washington, D.C. where club members learn how to advocate for affordable housing legislation in their communities.

“I really want to be able to bring that experience to OCC students, especially those interested in student government,” she said. “I just feel like it would be a great opportunity for them.”

As for Sadowski, in the fall of 2022, she will be transferring to Stockton University to begin a dual degree program in business administration. Although she hasn’t decided on a focus yet, she’s not worried.

“I’m kind of hoping I’ll figure that out along the way,” she said.

If the past two years are any indication, it seems certain that she will

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