URI student’s painful choice put her on track to success

Mentor and benefactor cheer from the sidelines

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 23, 2004 — Destiny Woodbury has seen a lot of life. As a child, the University of Rhode Island junior witnessed poverty, drug addiction, and death and made a life-changing choice.

“Before I turned 6, I had to take care of my younger brother, sister and myself because my mother was not stable enough to care for us,” says Woodbury who only saw her father twice. “I had to make sure we ate and were clean every day.

Some days we went without food because my mother would use her money to buy drugs.”

Deciding that she and her siblings didn’t have to live life that way, she asked her grandmother if they could come live with her. Two days later, DCYF stepped in and took the children from the mother. Woodbury always hoped that her mother would get help, but although her mother repeatedly tried, she always returned to her old lifestyle. When Woodbury was a teenager, her mother died from an overdose of cocaine. “This was the hardest thing I had to deal with in life. To experience holidays and special moments in my life without her,” she says. “But I realize that I had to be stronger now for my family.”

But her mother left her oldest child a legacy. She encouraged her daughter to go to college. So did her grandmother, Ella Mae Woodbury. “They wanted me to pursue my dreams because, for the most part, they did not have the chance.”

Those family dreams are now becoming a reality, according to Woodbury who told her story to a gathering of donors and recipients at URI’s Annual Donor Brunch in October.

Now 20, Woodbury is enjoying academic success in a world of expanding opportunities at URI. A track star whose goal is to qualify for the NCAA championship before she graduates, Woodbury has gained many cheerleaders along the way, including a mentor, Bill Euler, chair of URI’s Chemistry Department and benefactors, including Victor J. Baxt, a 1938 University of Rhode Island alumnus who is chairman of Teknor Apex, an international custom compounder of plastics and rubber material headquartered in Pawtucket.

Baxt interviewed Woodbury for the internship and was impressed. “The University is great in providing us with the better engineering and chemistry students,” he said. Baxt and his wife, Gussie, were amazed with Woodbury’s story at the brunch. “She spoke so beautifully,” he recalled. “I was moved like everyone else,” he said.

Woodbury is the recipient of a scholarship that bears Baxt’s name. In addition to the scholarship, Woodbury received a paid internship at Teknor Apex this past summer. She loved it. “I learned so much about the industrial part of chemistry. Working with a chemist in the industry was the most exciting thing I ever experienced,” she said.

She was well prepared for the internship, as she is part of a research team, studying a new, and possible revolutionary application of carbon nanotubes. Euler, her mentor, heads the team. “Since she became part of the research team, I have absolutely seen her mature as a chemist,” says the chair. She’s enthusiastic about chemistry, but then she’s enthusiastic about everything. Until she spoke at the donor brunch, I had no idea of what she had to overcome.”

This fall, Woodbury was also awarded the Edward D. Eddy Memorial Scholarship, which is given annually to a graduate of a Providence public school who is majoring in education and wants to teach in an urban school.

Woodbury would love to emulate Mrs. Lipa, her 10th grade chemistry teacher and track coach at Mt. Pleasant High School. “She made chemistry fun,” she recalls. “I fell in love with it.”

So Woodbury is now approaching a fork in the road. One path leads to a career as an industrial chemist, the other leads to a career teaching high school chemistry. “I love chemistry and I love teaching. I want to do both,” she says with a wide grin. “Maybe I’ll work in industry first, then become a teacher.”

But that decision can wait. Right now, Woodbury has her sights set on graduate school and on the 2008 Olympics.