Campus: SAN BERNARDINO -- June 16, 2006

One Door Closes And Another Very Rewarding One Opens For Selfless CSUSB Student

Mario Botkin is nervous and excited as he ponders life after graduation from Cal State San Bernardino's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

It's been quite a ride for the 29-year-old Riverside resident in 2006. He leaves Cal State San Bernardino with a bachelor's degree in political science and will going to the University of La Verne's law school in the fall. The college's ceremony takes place Saturday, June 17, at 9 a.m. at CSUSB's Coussoulis Arena.

"I feel nervous," Botkin said. "You know, one door closes and another door opens. I'm nervous and excited at the same time."

But it's the things that happened in between that still leave him shaking his head. But they don't surprise the people that know him.

He graduates with departmental honors, specifically having written the outstanding honors thesis from CSUSB's College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. And he has been awarded a $10,000 scholarship from the University of La Verne to attend law school.

But perhaps the most amazing thing was one day in class earlier this year when a Cal State San Bernardino alumna asked a professor if she could recognize Botkin during one of his classes for his selflessness in helping fellow students. But what the professor and his class thought would be a basic thank you certificate from the CSUSB graduate turned out to be a $15,000 check for Botkin.

That January day Sherrie Gibson of Twentynine Palms handed him a check for $15,000 from her recently created non-profit Loretta Parker Foundation for Education, named for her mother, Loretta Parker. After a long pause mixed with disbelief, and at the urging of Mark Clark, the political science professor who let Gibson make the presentation, Botkin spoke.

"I have a 7-year-old son. I always tell him that integrity means always doing the right thing, even when no one is looking," Botkin told his classmates. "Well, I guess someone was looking this time."

Gibson said Botkin was a godsend for her and other students last spring during a political science class. She needed the class credit to graduate with a bachelor's degree in the field, and it proved to be tough for her and other students. One student was ready to drop the course. "A lot of us were struggling, and Mario stepped in. He was more than willing to proof papers and expand on what we discussed in class. I saw him do that with a lot of other students in class," Gibson said. "He cut some of his other classes to help people in our class."

Botkin's tutoring helped Gibson improved her grades. She passed the course and graduated last June with a degree in political science.

"Mario is an inspiration to anyone struggling to get an education and how important it is to honor service. I don't think we do it often enough," Gibson said.

While the check will go a long way to help Botkin's plans for law school after graduation, the $15,000 was an instant help, too. Two days before receiving the check, Botkin, who lives in Riverside, had quit his part-time job in Redlands because, with the rising price of gasoline, just getting to and from work had become too expensive. The very day Gibson made her presentation, he had spent his last $4 on gas to get to class.

"The check was a shock and a relief," Botkin said.

For Gibson, it was an act of rewarding someone who took the time to care and reaffirming what her mother always talked about. "Education was very important to my mother. It was one of the things she really pushed," Gibson said. "She told me to make sure I graduate, and now I'm the first person in my family with a bachelor's degree."

Gibson, who with her husband had a carpet cleaning business in Twentynine Palms, had left school for the birth of their daughter. But she was determined to go back not only for herself, but as an example to her daughter. So she re-enrolled, graduated and has been successful in business with her husband. They're now developing a real estate subdivision and two golf courses in the Coachella Valley.

"We've been working in real estate while I was in school," Gibson said. "There were some very lean times. In one place we were working on, we had no water in the place for five months," she added. "Now all our sacrifices are paying off and I'm now in a position to do something. I wanted to do something that was service-based. So I did this in honor of my mother."

Contact: Sid Robinson, (909) 537-5007

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