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Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College

Confetti is released as the new logo for Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College is revealed during a news conference in the Savas Kostas Performing Arts Center on Sept. 13.

College. What an experience it has been.

This fall, I was accepted into Southern West Virginia Community and Technical College’s Early College Academy (ECA) program. This is a collaborative program between Southern and the Mingo County Board of Education. A select number of juniors and seniors from Tug Valley High School and Mingo Central High School make up this pilot program. We attend classes on the Williamson Campus four days a week, with the goal of graduating with a degree our senior year. The Logan Campus of Southern hosts a mirror program for Logan County students.

The ECA program is like dual credit in that it allows students like me to work on my associate degree while also earning my high school diploma — all at no cost to the student or his/her family. The difference is that ECA students are transported from their high school to and from the college campus, four mornings a week. We attend college classes alongside other college students and the expectations for us are the same as those of a “real life” college student.

The ECA has presented each of us who enrolled with a huge learning curve and if we succeed with this pilot program, the faculty at Southern will deserve much of the credit. The Williamson faculty have gone above and beyond to make us feel welcome on campus, especially Student Success Advisor Roger Williamson. Williamson is like having a surrogate parent around to complain to when you do bad on an assignment, or you need help finding a quiet spot to study. He has never hesitated to listen and advise me as I have faced my first challenges as a college student. Just knowing I can visit Williamson’s office for a few minutes in the morning to do nothing more than talk has helped build my confidence and more importantly, helped me handle the stress of the workload, and trust me, it can and does get stressful. More than I care to admit.

The first three weeks we weren’t even sure if I was a student at Southern because a of technology blip that took three weeks to resolve. My laptop refused to recognize me and while I have always considered myself technologically savvy, even I was stumped and needed help. Once that was corrected, I discovered that I wasn’t receiving important emails from faculty (and didn’t know I was supposed to be) which meant that I missed two full weeks of a mandatory online “orientation” course. Talk about stressful. I spent a full weekend catching up on those assignments, but I am happy to report that I did and now have a 98% in the class.

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Other things I have learned this first quarter, is that college is nothing like high school. I repeat — NOTHING like high school. I have been forced to teach myself better organization skills and to be more responsible. I didn’t realize how much I depended on my family to keep me focused until now.

I have gotten much better at checking my emails regularly and managing my time. I appreciate being treated as an adult when I am on campus and taking ownership of my learning experience. And I admit it that there have been a few hard lessons learned, like not realizing missing an English class would knock my grade down to a C because I underestimated the weight of my mid-term test.

Yet, despite these curve balls I will be the first to admit that my time on campus has been very positive. I thoroughly enjoy the challenges presented in my classes, be it math or English. We have a fantastic English professor, Vicki Evans, who keeps us all motivated. Evans is one of the most influential instructors I have ever met. Besides being incredibly patient and kind, she goes above and beyond presenting course materials in new and creative ways. In her class, my fellow students and I have done black out poetry, analyzed paintings and have been introduced to literature and vocabulary I never had the opportunity to explore before now. I greatly enjoy being in her English class, something that I would never have imagined enjoying just a few short months ago.

The most profound impact my college experience has had on me though has been the opportunity to be exposed to people outside of my immediate circle. For example, I’ve spent the last few weeks interacting with adults who process the world differently and have had different life experiences. That might sound a little condescending, but when you grow up in a remote, rural community like I have, you spend your entire life attending school with your cousins or people related to your cousins, even your teachers are frequently people you are related to by blood or marriage or that your parents or grandparents attend church or funerals with. Being on a college campus means I hear new ideas and fresh views which challenge my perspective. And, despite a few moments of frustration on my part, I have found college to be a good exercise in increasing my tolerance or, as my grandmother would say, taking me out of my comfort zone.

Without the opportunity to participate in the ECA program at Southern, I suspect I would have been poorly equipped when the time came for me to transition from high school to university. I am appreciative of the adults in my life, even those at Southern and the Mingo County Board of Education whom I don’t know personally, but who believe in me and my classmates enough to invest substantial resources in our future success. I’m not going to pretend that there won’t be more hurdles to jump, or that I won’t stumble along the way, but what’s life without a little risk and adventure?

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