Kim Cioni and Karyn Hawthorne

Kim Cioni will not let her students give up. Or her sister, for that matter. She’s in it for the long haul, making sure they stay in the race to the end.

According to her sister, Karyn Haw-thorne, Cioni inherited that determination from their grandfather. “She doesn’t let any of her students give up. No matter what their problems are, she finds a way to make it work.”

It’s a good thing, too, since Cioni, the SkillsUSA advisor at Illinois Central College, and Hawthorne, a former student (pictured left to right), decided to pursue the organization’s highest individual honor: the International SkillsUSA Degree.

Part of the Professional Development Program, the degree is completed after a SkillsUSA member has entered the work force. A series of requirements must be met, including the documentation of 960 hours of full-time employment and various professional development tasks related to the job. Candidates must also assemble a notebook and make a presentation of the material.

The college’s group began working on the requirements last year after meeting with SkillsUSA’s executive director. “Tim Lawrence encouraged us to go forward and try for it,” Hawthorne says.

For Cioni, teamwork was what made meeting the degree requirements possible. “I talked with the students who did this with us. We decided if we did it as a team, we could help mentor each other and help support each other.”

After making their presentations at SkillsUSA’s national conference, Cioni was beyond excited to find out she, her sister and fellow team member Nick Hulva were among the select few to make the cut. “It sounds crazy, but I was almost relieved, because we had been working so hard on the process,” she says.

Getting the degree was so much work that Cioni jokingly told her college president that she would no longer need to get her doctorate. “This is my doctorate at this point,” she explains. “It was that much work for me to get it done, and we put heart and soul into it.”

Hawthorne, who has been involved with SkillsUSA for 10 years, says receiving the degree “means the world to me. It’s just such an honor.”

And Hawthorne is no stranger to awards. She was also honored by the Peoria Chamber of Commerce with its “25 Women in Leadership” award.

Hawthorne sums up their effort this way: “If you don’t run the race, you can’t finish. Whether you win or lose, you have to run to the end. It makes a difference if you run to the end. At least you’ve completed it.”