Pasco foster mom who had brain surgery earns her degree from CBC

There's a poster in a hallway at Columbia Basin College in Pasco with "tenacity" written across the top.

Edie Campbell's photo is underneath.

The 37-year-old Pasco woman has more than earned that description.

She grew up in foster care, had to relearn to walk and talk after undergoing brain surgery, and is raising seven children, including five who are foster kids. She has done all that with a dream in the back of her mind -- to become a social worker so she can help people the way she has been helped.

Today, Campbell graduates from CBC and moves a step closer to her goal.

She says she's so excited she will "probably end up crying all day."

The graduation ceremony is at 7 p.m. at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Nearly 1,070 students -- a record -- will receive two-year degrees or one-year certificates.

Campbell is getting her associate's degree, but she's not stopping there. In the fall she will begin taking classes through Heritage University on her way to a bachelor's degree. Her commitment to complete her education despite the obstacles she has faced has not gone unnoticed by CBC staff.

"She's been an inspiration to all of us," said Michelle Pea, who works in student support services.

Campbell's tenacity earned her a spot on the poster, one of a handful that depict outstanding CBC students.

The Pasco mom's educational goals trace back to when she was in the foster care system as a teen. The social worker who looked after her "was so nice and honest," Campbell remembered. "She was so kind to me. I just looked up to her."

Her experiences in foster care also made her want to be a foster mom. Her seven children range in age from 17 years to 18 months. The five youngest are foster kids, and Campbell and her husband, Dan, hope to adopt them.

Despite her busy home life, she has been able to make time for school. She started taking classes at CBC three years ago.

It wasn't always easy. Campbell struggled in math, and during her first day of classes she considered giving up.

But she kept going, and the story of her tenacity eventually reached the college president's office.

Rich Cummins holds regular get-togethers with students, and during one of those meetings Campbell shared about her life. Cummins was so moved he offered her a scholarship to complete her bachelor's through Heritage.

The Toppenish university offers classes on CBC's campus, and Cummins can award some scholarships as part of the arrangement.

"I said, 'I'd like to give you a scholarship,' and she burst into tears," Cummins recalled. "I get choked up when I think about it. It's so powerful to be able to help somebody, to help such an amazing person who's already helped herself and helped so many people."

Campbell wasn't sure how she would pay to continue her studies, so the scholarship is a blessing, she said.

CBC staffers said she deserves to be recognized.

"She's what we want all of our students to be," said Carrie Casey, who works in student support services. "She's an exceptional person. The more I get to know her, the more I get to love her."

Campbell spent some time Thursday morning -- right after her last final exam -- reflecting on her journey. She talked about a moment in 1995, after she had undergone surgery in Seattle for a brain tumor.

It was a difficult recovery -- she had to relearn to walk and talk and still has some vision loss. Her foster dad was helping her wash her hair, and she broke down, saying she felt her life was over.

Her foster dad gently reminded her she wasn't the only person in the world who was hurting -- that some people had it even worse.

Campbell remembers him encouraging her to "stand up. Get on with it."

And that's what she did. She hopes people take from her story the importance of staying positive and being tenacious in pursuit of their dreams.

"If you can make a difference in the world and remain positive -- that's what we're meant to do," she said.

She plans to bring her foster parents to see the poster.

"I'm going to say to my dad, 'What you did paid off.' "

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1402; sschilling@tricityherald.com