Belem Oseguera Duran and Zachary Rahn Named COD’s 2021 Outstanding Graduates

Glen Ellyn, Illinois, UNITED STATES

Glen Ellyn, Ill., May 21, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Belem Oseguera Duran of Wood Dale and Zachary Rahn of Lisle are the 2021 Outstanding Graduates at College of DuPage.

Oseguera Duran earned her Associate in Arts degree at the end of 2020 and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Economics. She would like to focus on helping communities develop the resources to help residents thrive. Rahn is graduating with an Associate in Applied Science degree in Horticulture and the Greenhouse Management certificate. His long-term goals include working for a large commercial production greenhouse and continuing his interest in plants that shape modern medicine.

The Outstanding Graduate finalists are Luke Buchanan (Aurora), Loradana Imrisek (Carol Stream), Leslie Morgan (Carol Stream), Ryan Riccitelli (Naperville), Alexandria Schweikle (Lombard), Srinidhi Subramanian (Bloomingdale) and Sofia Walendziak (Naperville). Read more about the outstanding graduates.

Oseguera Duran did not think continuing her education beyond high school was a possibility.

“I am a low-income, first-generation student. While many colleges offered scholarships, the tuition prices were still too high for my family,” she said. “However, after applying for scholarships at College of DuPage, I was notified that I was a Presidential Scholar, which meant my tuition would be covered in full. I remember feeling a surge of relief when my counselor gave me the news and after that, I knew COD would be the college I wanted to attend. My family and I will forever be grateful for that.”  

Being a Presidential Scholar also meant Oseguera Duran was enrolled in the Honors Program. She enjoyed the smaller class sizes that engaged students to think outside the classroom, and one of her favorites was English Composition II with Associate Professor Steven Accardi.

“It was in this class that I felt like I was actually making a change in the world around me,” she said. “Our class learned about rhetoric and formulating a strong argument to change an issue we identified in the world. We decided to tackle plastic bag consumption and created a video providing a solution.

“After the class ended, I felt like our hard work could be taken a step further, so I submitted our project to the Honors Council of the Illinois Region (HCIR) Student Symposium. It was an amazing opportunity in which my classmates and I could partake.”

In addition to pursuing her academics, Oseguera Duran continued her work in the community. Her desire to help came from her own childhood and her family’s struggles to succeed. She currently is a parent resource coordinator at her local school district and provides resources to low-income families.

“In the Spanish-speaking community, there is a fear that not speaking the English language is a barrier to getting the resources that can help them,” she said. “In my role, I work with low-income families, both Hispanic- and English-speaking, who need more assistance. This has expanded my knowledge, which is pretty amazing.”

Oseguera Duran also represents the state of Illinois as one of the inaugural Poderosa fellows with Poder Latinx, a national organization that promotes and empowers the Latina population.

“Since February, I have been working with my fellow Poderosas to expand the Latina electorate and encourage more Latinas to become civically engaged. It has been a great learning experience to look beyond my own town to the state and the nation.”

In addition to pursuing economics, Oseguera Duran is still deciding what to pair with it in order to best serve her community.

“For the longest time, I never pictured myself in a specific job. Instead it’s about who I want to be and what impact I can make,” she said.

Oseguera Duran is happy that she attended COD and hopes other students take advantage of the many opportunities awaiting them.

“COD exceeded all expectations I ever had,” she said. “After just one event on campus, I grew to love COD and the community it builds. Every class I took helped me grow as a student and challenged me to apply what I learned.I want to give a shout out to all my professors and theater directors for making my time at COD a wonderful experience. I learned a lot from them both in terms of education and life.

“I am the first in my family to attend college. I value my education and the sacrifices my parents have made that allowed me to get where I am today, so I will continue to work hard and make them proud.”

Rahn found it difficult to focus on his education in high school. After graduating, he was unsure of what to do with his life and began working minimum-wage jobs.

But a new seasonal position at Wannemaker’s Home and Garden in Downers Grove ignited his passion for horticulture.

“I was constantly around plants, and I loved it,” he said. “It became an obsession. The more I learned from my managers and the staff, the better I could help customers.”

Wannemaker’s eventually offered Rahn a full-time position, and he became manager of the pond department. He also took courses through Aquascape but soon realized he would need more training if he wanted to pursue horticulture as a career.

“As time passed, I regretted not getting a college education,” he said. “Our typical seasonal employees were college students, and so many of them went to College of DuPage. I enjoyed working with them and listening to their experiences at COD, and they told me about the Horticulture program. I set up an appointment with Program Chair Brian Clement, and his passion and knowledge of the program and the horticulture industry inspired me to pursue a degree in horticulture.”

Ten years after graduating from high school, Rahn enrolled at COD while continuing to work. He dedicated himself to learning as much as he could about plants, their uses and how to best care for them.

It was during a project in his first course, Introduction to Horticulture, that he developed an interest in herbalism. Rahn learned how chemists used willow bark to produce aspirin and what other plants could be applied to wounds or used to reduce a fever. After the class ended, he kept researching the topic and eventually gave two successful presentations on herbalism for COD’s Horticulture Club.

One of his best experiences came through the Horticulture program’s annual career fair. Rahn secured an internship at Green Circle Growers in Oberlin, Ohio, one of North America’s largest floriculture plant producers, and worked alongside interns from around the world.

“As a grower’s assistant, I learned a lot of valuable information about what it takes to work in a large commercial greenhouse, from understanding water chemistry, irrigation and fertilization to insect and disease management for thousands of different crops commonly grown in greenhouses and used in landscapes today,” he said. “I will never forget that experience and it has helped shape my educational experience and pointed me toward a career path.”

Rahn also applied for and received scholarships from three local garden clubs, including the Elmhurst Garden Club, through which several members privately raised money for his education.

“It helped so much, they were so generous about it,” he said. “One member who is a COD grad, Lynn Baralt, contacted me about a position at her landscape company, Baralt’s Custom Landscape, and that’s where I currently work.” 

Rahn never thought he would excel like he has in college.

“I knew when I started at COD it was going to be a big commitment, and I’m still completely blown away by how well I did. When I got that first email about finishing my initial semester with a 4.0 GPA, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Being Outstanding Graduate is something that I am really proud of. I never thought I would be picked.” 

Rahn advises anyone considering COD to give it a try.

“There’s a program for everyone, and with so many programs and opportunities, you can really find what you are passionate about,” he said. “Regardless of the outcome, you will take something positive away from the experience.

“I am very excited to go out into the world and use my knowledge and experience I gained at College of DuPage in an industry that I love.”