Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Alumnus #103468

Brian Smith
Future Alumni Essay Contest - 2016 Winner

Alumni is the plural of the Latin noun Alumnus (foster son, pupil) which is derived from the Latin verb Alere (to nourish).  In the ancient Roman legal system Alumnus was used to describe a child placed under the care of foster parents, wherein the child might be showered with love, simply treated as a servant or both.  Noted Yale alumni John Boswell held that in even earlier ancient times it referred to ‘exposed children’ taken in by foster parents; think Moses, Paris, Oedipus or Romulus & Remus.  These days and according to Merriam-Webster we get one commonly used definition and one perhaps not so common:

1: a person who has attended or has graduated from a particular school, college, or university.
2: a person who is a former member, employee, contributor, or inmate.

The first definition is familiar to me, but not the second. I also didn’t know of the word’s etymology until doing research for this essay.  The revelation of this new information and its relevance to my life is why I chose it for the opening paragraph; ditto as to my choice for the title.

I’ve been on my own since I was thirteen and without going into too much detail, in the year 2000 I was freed after 20 years of wrongful imprisonment.  I was the first person in South Carolina to be freed by the Innocence Project and the number in the above title was my prison number – 103468.  Since there’s not enough room in this brief piece of work to cover all the obstacles I overcame to get the education I have (20 years of intense personal study as a captive audience and an Associates Degree in Food & Beverage Management from Johnson and Wales University) the obstacle I’d like to focus on is the more recent one of addiction.

On March 29, 2015 I checked myself into Morris Village, a state-operated drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility.  It was on that day that I had my last alcoholic drink, my last cigarette, my last pain pill, my last joint.  It had become painfully apparent during the previous few years of my freedom that I had some deeply held resentments associated with my lengthy prison sojourn, which I was mistakenly trying to deal with by self medicating.  For a long time I had been a functional alcoholic and when I finally hit my bottom and received the gift of desperation, I chose living over dying.  I knew I had to stay busy and I wanted to go back to school, but didn’t have the money for such lofty fantasy.  That’s when I found out about the Charleston Clemente Course in the Humanities, offered by Trident Technical College.

After completing the two courses offered by the Clemente program, I scraped together the money to take a sociology course here at TTC.  This semester I’m taking a creative writing course, again managing to find the funds.  I can envision my taking at least one college class per semester for the rest of my life and the pertinent, personal value of TTC’s offerings can be summed up with three words: quality, variety and affordability.  I’ve stayed involved in the Clemente program by helping build the set and acting in the Clemente Players “Madam No-No Meets the USO-OH” this past spring, and working with Dr. Kohli to start up a Clemente prison initiative.  By far, I’ve benefited the most from my investment in TTC’s educational opportunities, but by righting my ship I’ve gone from being a liability to an asset for my family, friends and community.

Words cannot describe the importance an education holds in…everything!  Again, I find the subject matter too vast for this medium, so I’ll focus on a recent observation – critical thinking.  I’ve always had a curious bent, forever asking why, so I was a critical thinker before even knowing of the concept.  True critical thinking, however, is more than just asking ‘why’ - though that is a good start.  I think the biggest stumbling block for most is the aspect of being open minded and accepting of answers you didn’t anticipate, i.e. you aren’t always right!

For example, while working with Dr. Kohli on the Clemente prison initiative, I revisited one of my old epiphanies about prisoner rehabilitation.  I firmly believe that giving prisoners basic civics instruction married with critical thinking will go a long way in making them better citizens.  Whether it is local, state or federal, to the average convict all government is ‘the man’ and the man has always been out to get them.  Perhaps if they have a better understanding of the how and whys of government, and how it can be changed, maybe they’ll have that coveted “Ah ha!” moment.  Maybe…

In a nutshell, a good education usually makes a better person.  Period.  Most of our social ills are directly related to ignorance and since education is the antithesis of ignorance, I prescribe heavy doses of knowledge for the masses.  I believe most people are inherently good and given the opportunity to make the right choices will do so.  It’s hard to make those right choices, however, if you’re living in the dark and relying on simple survival instincts.  According to Juvenal, “No one ever became extremely wicked suddenly.”  While I believe that most people are inherently good, there are some very wicked individuals slithering around.  I know this because I’ve had the misfortune to meet a few of the ones we’ve caged, and some of them were fairly educated.

Finally, education is no panacea, but it’s the closest thing we have to one.  At 48 I decided to reinvent myself and this makeover started with a new set of goals, one of them being to use my experiences to encourage and inspire others.  A good education is a good start, and though already a prison alumni, what I really look forward to being is a future Trident Technical College alumnus!

Trident Technical College – a Valuable Asset to our Community

Dawn R. Wells
Future Alumni Essay Contest - Runner-up

After being a stay at home mom for nearly two decades, I realized that my job as mom would eventually come to a close and I wanted to start something new. I was comfortable being in the shadows of my husband's accomplishments; therefore, I assumed I would get a part time job and do some volunteer work. Behind the safe thoughts of an entry level job, was a gnawing desire to get a degree and have a career that could support me if something happened to my husband. I was not sure of what I wanted to do as a career or where to start. I did not know much about Trident Technical College; I assumed it was for people that did not want a four-year degree. I applied at College of Charleston and was denied based on poor academic performance at a college twenty-five years prior. I applied to Trident with the idea that I would prove myself worthy of College of Charleston. When I registered, I was told to declare a major. At that time, I realized that Trident partnered with other schools for engineering degrees. I liked the idea of being a civil engineer and building structures. Civil engineering sounded fun; how hard could that be? I have raised teenagers. What could be more challenging than that?

I was floored by the changes and challenges of beginning school again. My first year, I was like a baby that did not know anything about college. I was confused about payment dates, FAFSA, G.P.A., D2L, scholarships, using a computer, and just about everything. My math teachers have helped me survive my first year as an engineering student. After a year of classes, I earned a 4.0 GPA and a scholarship for the upcoming semester. I became a math tutor and a member of both the honor society and the civil engineers club. Over the summer I also enjoyed the opportunity to shadow engineers at the Army Corps of Engineers in Charleston.

 I completely underestimated the impact that being a successful college student would bring. I wish that I would have started sooner. I love my new life. My confidence has skyrocketed. I love being a role model to my children and other students. It is exciting to have new financial opportunities, even as a student, through internships and tutoring. I have been so thankful that I stumbled into engineering at Trident. When I began, I did not have the tools or courage to embark on such a challenging career. The teachers and tutors here have assisted me in my journey as a successful future engineer. I have gradually grown in my confidence and competency as a student. The environment at this school and the quality of the staff members have helped transform my life and given me a real vision for the future. It is a beautiful thing to have my children ask me for help with school, and I can assist them. I encourage friends and family to take classes to help understand politics, business, and just for fun.

I wholeheartedly believe in the value that Trident brings to our community. I needed a smaller school with quality staff to help me transition back into school. There is such a variety of opportunities at this college. It is crucial for a person to get a good paying job without a bachelor’s degree. I will continue to encourage students to start and finish their education. I am especially partial to seeing students succeed in the math and science fields. I would love to have more than twenty percent of civil engineers be women. The volunteer work that I have chosen is math tutoring; I want to help people feel competent at something challenging. It is empowering and transforming. Also, I find it very gratifying to connect people to resources that they need in their academic journey. I know how important it is to network and receive valuable guidance. Overall, I cannot imagine starting at another school besides Trident Technical College, and I could not have achieved what I have without the strong support of others. I will continue to be a person that says "work hard," "finish," and here are some tools to make that happen.

Trident Technical College, Making My Dreams a Reality

Jessie L. Cox
Future Alumni Essay Contest - 2016 Runner-up

Nelson Mandela said, “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” As a self-proclaimed dreamer and a firm believer that education is the light in the dark our world needs, I had planned to attend college ever since I can remember. My yearning to continue my education did not come from any sense of obligation nor from lectures by my parents, but by way of my everlasting love affair with knowledge. I have always been somewhat of a philomath. Having had a love of learning from a very young age, my family often speaks of my undying curiosity. I had always known that high school would not be the end of my journey with education. However, my big plans hit a massive bump. The harsh reality of paying to continue my education was a hard a pill to swallow. Sure, I knew college would not be free, but I had no idea just how costly it would turn out to be. At a time when I was sure I would have to abandon my lifelong dream of higher education, I found Trident Technical College. The affordability, assistance, and the guidance I received gave me the confidence to pick myself up after being knocked now. I support and adore Trident Technical College because it has given me the chance to continue doing what I love most; learning.

Growing up in the public school system, I had never really taken a step back to appreciate how easily I had it. Paying for college is no simple feat for any student. Sky-high tuition, fees of attendance, room, board, and textbook prices seem like a nightmare once you graduate high school, and only become even more frightening when you realize you will be the one paying for it all. Sure, there is FAFSA and student loans— both federal and private— but what happens when those options just aren’t enough? I had already picked my roommate and registered for classes before I was told my family would not be able to send me to the university to which I had committed. FAFSA had not offered much assistance, and I had been counting on the bank approving me for a private loan. When the bank denied my loan for the second time, despite my parents co-signing, I had to withdraw with only two weeks left before the start of the semester.

I was absolutely devastated. Filling out the withdrawal forms felt as though I was kissing my lifelong dream of a college education goodbye. If I couldn’t afford to attend college, where did that leave me? I had only recently moved to Charleston and had not heard just how affordable an education from Trident Technical College could be. I knew that it was an option, but I just assumed I wouldn’t be able to afford it either, not to mention that there were only two weeks until the fall semester would begin. How was I supposed to apply and get accepted in such a short time, let alone register for classes and buy textbooks? It was not until my mother urged me to look into Trident that I realized something astounding; not only was Trident Technical College cheaper than the college I had planned to attend, it was actually affordable! So affordable, in fact, that I wouldn’t even require the private loans that I had previously been denied. I could get my associates degree and graduate in two years, debt free. Not only that, but I saw where Trident was still accepting applications for the fall term and continuing to encourage students to register for classes. Seeing all of this, I felt reassured that a college education was still a viable option for me, and I decided to apply.

Trident Technical College is a smart investment in myself because I can get a quality education at an extremely cost-effective price. If it were not for Trident, I would not be financially capable of continuing my education. In addition to being affordable, Trident offers top-notch academic instruction. My instructors are consistently helpful and available for one-on-one sessions, not to mention they all exhibit an undeniable passion for their job. The education and instruction I am receiving here at Trident Technical College is invaluable to both me and my family. My parents shared in my disappointment when we learned that I would not be able to go off to university. From a parental standpoint, they felt guilty that they were unable to provide me with a clear financial path to college and, as parents tend to do, assumed the responsibility for my inability to attend college. Being able to attend Trident has allowed my family and I peace of mind, knowing that I am receiving an education that does not break the bank.

However, Trident Technical College is not just a smart investment for me and my family, it is a smart investment in our community as a whole. Trident provides our community with the opportunity to be educated, something which I personally believe is the key to a successful and prosperous society. When education is attainable, members of the community often take advantage of the opportunity, which leads to a higher quality of life for local society as a whole. In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, he tells of prisoners who are trapped in bondage, seeing only the shadows cast upon the walls of the cave they are being kept in. The prisoners think that the shadows are all there is to see, completely unaware that there is a much bigger picture that they are missing just outside of their line of sight. To Plato, education is breaking free from that captivity, and having the ability to see things for what they actually are. 

In closing, as a future alum of Trident Technical College I will encourage any person looking to further their education to begin their search here. I will tell my story of how if it were not for Trident, I would not have been able to further my education past the point of high school, and reassure anyone in doubt that Trident Technical College is a great investment in their future. Currently I am looking to pursue a career in theatre, a platform I plan to use to express the importance of getting an education and following through on one’s plans and goals. I am very hopeful that I will get the opportunity to share my narrative of the college who made receiving a higher education feasible, and the positive impact it has had upon my life. I will share my story of achieving my lifelong goal of higher education not only with the youth of our community, but with anyone who possesses a desire to learn.

Finding Salvation in Trident Tech

Brandon Murray
Future Alumni Essay Contest - Runner-up

When you think of salvation, you think of a church. A place where you go to religiously and perpetually. Whatever the reason one thing is a usually a given, it is a place of faith and worship. In my roller coaster adventure of life, it is ironic how one place I wrote off as “just a tech school” has become so critical and invaluable to me. I sit in the law lab on the second floor of the library every day before class. Every couple of hours I look outside the large square window and at that moment I am injected with peace, desire, passion and complete happiness. It is in this vast room stacked with books that I have found my sanctuary of salvation.

To start my journey in college, I was enrolled at the University of South Carolina for three semesters. While studying computer information systems the plot that was my life took a major nose dive in August of 2014. My grandmother and guardian angel was diagnosed with stage 4 cholangiocarcinoma. Cancer is in my opinion hell on Earth. The difference is that there is no encompassing fire or a horned figure that owns your soul. Instead, it is the slow descent of someone you love die. My grandmother and I were extremely close. So much that woman I marry will be a version of her personality. However, the images of her crying as I said goodbye would never leave my memory. Her tear was white as a ghost, and her grip was like a skeleton. Losing her destroyed me, but it was only the start of what would be the worst year of my life.

To make matters worse, a month after my grandmother passed, I was involved in a six-car accident that left me with a concussion. I was blessed to be still alive, but my doctor informed me that school should be put on hold for me to recover. So I did just that. The following summer my parents were separated and needless to say they were not very mature about it. In June, my childhood dog and therapeutic relief dog passed to cancer at a very early age. Shortly after my parents were divorced and the chaos that followed further sunk me into a major depression. I was hospitalized three different times for mental illness and out of school until the start of 2016.

I came here in the fall of this year a refugee from the College of Charleston. Two weeks before the onset of class I learned I would not have enough financial aid to cover tuition. I immediately withdrew and transferred to Trident Tech. By the grace of God, I was able to get my financial aid in order and register for classes in time. It was in the paralegal program where I have blown away by the prestige of this school. For years I always contemplated the idea of law school but was unsure about it. The program here appealed to me because I saw it as an opportunity to be very involved with law and get an incredibly affordable education. Not only that but the program here is also ABA certified. My first meeting with my advisor ultimately sold me on the program.

Then there was the first week of classes, and it was a confirmation that law was for me. More importantly is the professors. All of them have been through law school and have practiced law, and they are not shy about telling you that law school is a possibility. I do not think I have known a higher education college or university that has a staff that genuinely wants every student to do well. Professors also focus on real-world scenarios and tools to succeed in your field of choice.

After already passing the first part of the semester I have seen enough to know that this is a place of building habits to achieve your dreams. This is evident through the little things done in the classroom to succeed, and the big things you do through organizations that are outside the classroom, and it goes beyond a high turnout for the blood drive. I am proud to say that I am part of Lex Artis, the paralegal student organization. This semester I am the chair for the community outreach service where we are going to donate whatever we can to a local shelter. However, my organization is not the only one. There are many others here at the college, and it speaks to me that there are so many opportunities to give back.

What may be the most significant factor is the economic value of Trident Tech. Many higher education institutions are ungodly expensive. While attending both the College of Charleston and the Univeristy of South Carolina I asked myself often is this education worth the price of tuition? If I am paying these professors so much why does it seem I am just another statistic to them? Will this expensive education guarantee me a job? At Trident Tech the education I receive is excellent, and in my program, I would be willing to argue that it is a little undervalued. As for the professors, I know each one of them cares a tremendous amount about the success of my classmates and me. Most importantly, I have never felt so confident in my ability to find employment after graduation. In a world where finding a job is tough for my age group with no previous work experience this confidence is as priceless as the Hope Diamond. It is with that belief where I found true salvation. Through this essay, I believe that anyone who reads it will find the same success. Trident Tech is more than just a higher education; it is a place where your belief and hard work pave the way for a future that will be nothing short of divine

Friday, January 6, 2017

Diapers and Degrees: My Quest to Success

Andrea K. Davis
Future Alumni Essay Contest - 2016 Runner-up

Have you ever had to change the world’s smelliest diaper right in the middle of an exam for an online class? Well that honor has been bestowed upon me a few times during my time at TTC, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. While motherhood has its own unique challenges, attaining my degree has been a milestone I’ve been actively pursuing since relocating to Charleston. TTC has not only been a financially SMART investment, but has also given me the ability to connect with others in my community.

The quest to my success has not been one of comfort. Being a college student requires your undivided attention. When you’re taking multiple classes, it is not uncommon for deadlines to sneak up on you. Although working ahead in classes where I am able has been somewhat of a lifesaver, unfortunately that option isn’t available for all of my classes, so I have to do my best to stay on top of each assignment. The real challenge of this strategy is combining completing schoolwork with the never-ending demands of motherhood. Not only does my one year old require my exclusive attention, but I also have an eight year old son on the autistic spectrum whose favorite phrase to me as he plays his games is “hey, look at this” every five minutes. If college doesn’t work out for me, I may have a promising future in the circus because this is the ultimate juggling act.

In pursuit of my degree, I’d rather not be so broke that our family meals consist of ramen noodles, bread and water. As much as it is important for me to pursue higher learning, I also have a responsibility to make sure my household is in a good financial state. While attending TTC, I have not placed myself in financial ruin and I feel like I am receiving a quality education from knowledgeable professors. My decision to continue my education was not solely based on finances. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to invest in my community. I’ve always had a passion for writing. Unfortunately, I was not motivated to pursue this ability to its fullest potential for a long time. Trident Technical College has not only given me a platform to share my passion for writing and highlighting important issues in my community, but I’ve gained a job doing so as an editor for the Trident Times. This connection with the campus has given me ties to the community and I am now able to share events and views that our students and community find important.

While receiving a quality education at an affordable price is great, the real reward comes when you can pass on knowledge and opportunity to others. One of my goals after leaving college is to continue my work with the community and inspire others to pursue higher learning as well. For example, I am currently a volunteer at a grassroots organization in Charleston called Girls Rock Charleston, where we use music and creative arts as a vehicle for social change while building confidence and power among system involved girls. This is the only organization that serves as an alternative to incarceration in South Carolina and many are not aware of that. As a volunteer, I am appealing to young girls who may not have thought college was an option for them. They now have an example in me of what they can achieve at TTC.

While changing dirty diapers and taking exams for online classes may not seem like an ideal way to spend a day, I would not have it any other way. In pursuit of my degree and living my life as a mother, I have been taught that you don’t have to sacrifice financial freedom for education. You can make a SMART investment in yourself, your family and community. You can also help perpetuate success in the future when you choose to attend TTC. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Beautiful Sound of Success

By Emily Jax, '16

Last spring, I graduated from Trident Technical College, packed up my Chevy Cruze and drove to Minneapolis, where I was eager to start a new job as a registered nurse at the Mayo Clinic. 

It was a long journey – about 1,300 miles - but my personal journey started years ago, and there were many twists in the road.

When I was a young child, I was often scolded by my parents for being disobedient and not listening. But what they did not realize at the time was that I lived in a very quiet world of my own and it turned out that I could not even hear them.

I was eventually diagnosed with moderate sensorineural hearing loss in both ears, which meant much of what I heard was muted, if I heard anything at all. When my parents realized what was going on, they took me to an audiologist and, at the age of five, I received hearing aids.

Even though the hearing aids were helpful, I still struggled. I was insecure and thought that my hearing loss would limit me. When I got older and started thinking about college, I felt a strong pull towards nursing. But I assumed that was not a possibility for me, so I pursued a career as a veterinary technician instead.

During the 10 years I worked as a vet tech, many of my family members were fighting their own battles, with cancer. I lost two of my grandparents and both my father and my aunt beat cancer more than once. But what ultimately drew me to nursing was my sister’s battle with ovarian cancer, which she sadly lost in January 2007.

During the many months she was hospitalized, and later in hospice care, I watched in awe of the care she received from the nurses that were by her bedside. They cared for her so wonderfully in her last days, it sparked a renewed interest in joining the field myself.

So In 2014 I went to speak to a career counselor at Trident Technical College, and that is when things began to shift. The counselor told not to view hearing loss as something that would hinder me, but use it to inspire others. She motivated me to finally realize that I could do anything I wanted in life. So once I did some research of my own and found out that TTC had a great pass rate for the nursing licensure exams, I applied to TTC.

I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for Trident Technical College. The nursing program was rigorous, but my instructors seemed to genuinely care about my future. At graduation, I was humbled to receive The Merit Award as the top student in nursing and The President’s Award/Kurtzman Prize, which is the highest honor of all the student awards and is given on the basis of academic achievement, contributions to the college and community service.

I absolutely love working as a nurse at one of the most respected health institutions in the world, caring for people the same way my family members were cared for. The path may have taken me a bit longer, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. And when my colleagues ask me where I went to nursing school, I proudly tell them Trident Technical College!

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Mother's Difficult Choice

Just a few short years ago, I found myself in the position of having to choose between feeding my family and paying the electric bill.

No parent should ever have to make that choice.

I was working two dead-end jobs and still living in poverty when I realized that work experience wasn’t all employers were looking for and that I needed at least a 2-year degree. I knew I had to make a change, but I didn’t think I had any options.

Then I saw a television commercial about Trident TechnicalCollege and I knew it was where I needed to be. I learned that tuition at TTC is less than half of most other colleges and that with financial aid and lottery assistance, I would have to pay very little out of pocket. I would be graduating from college debt-free!

Attending Trident Tech was the smartest decision I ever made. It changed my life in ways that I never thought were possible. I met people who genuinely cared about my success, and the encouragement and motivation from my instructors and classmates helped me gain confidence.

For the first time in my life I believed in myself.

It only got better from there. I applied for scholarships through the TTC Foundation and was thrilled to find out I would be awarded two scholarships, allowing me to work on fulfilling my dream without having to worry about money or sacrificing my family’s well-being. I was invited to join Phi Theta Kappa, the college’s honor society, and was chosen for Who’s Who in American Colleges. These experiences have helped me to grow as a student and become a successful, contributing member of our community. 

I will never forget attending the annual scholarship luncheon last Spring when I had the opportunity to meet Carolyn Hunter, who created one of the scholarships I received.  I was inspired by her generosity and found it remarkable that someone I didn’t even know would want to invest in my future. When I told her this, she explained that she, too, attended community college and there were people who invested in her future. Now here she is, the owner of 3 McDonald’s franchises and the first person to make a $1 million commitment to TTC. I was honored to meet her and hope that I too, can give back to the college someday!

I received my Associate in Arts in May 2015 and now I am taking classes to get my Associate in Science. I want to fulfill as many of my requirements as possible at TTC because I love it so much here and I will save money.

A few weeks ago, my 15-year old daughter and I were doing our homework together at the kitchen table, and out of nowhere, she looked up at me and said, Mom, I am so proud of you.”

I could not hold back my tears of joy because, in that moment, I realized that I have become someone my children can look up to, and I have TTC to thank for that!

Gina Corley, TTC student