Cabinet Conversations: Real Students, Real Stories

March 29, 2022

Avis McMillonBy Avis McMillon
Associate Vice President
Marketing, Admissions, and Recruitment 

When I started out as a young professional in the community college sector, I knew little about our mission. As I learned about the various lifelong learning options and the breadth of services, courses, and programs, I realized our value as a vital community resource. But it wasn’t until I began to hear the personal stories of our students that I realized the transformational power of our often-underrated higher education institutions. Though unique in perspective, our students’ stories have one common theme: A community college education changes lives.

Take John Jones’s story. John knew he wanted to be a scientist from the time he was eight years old. He graduated from high school at 16 and enrolled at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University (NCAT). During his high school years, John’s father was diagnosed with kidney disease.

NCAT was John’s dream school, but halfway through his first semester, his family realized that the expense was not sustainable. John remained in North Carolina and went to work, hoping to eventually return to NCAT. But in 2007, his father’s health took a turn for the worse. His mother was managing her own health concerns, so John returned home to Waldorf, Maryland, to help care for his father. During that time, John’s father made it clear to him that at some point, he wanted him to return to school. “I know right now, we need you here to help take care of me, but I need you to go back to school,” his father told him repeatedly.  

John took his father’s direction and began researching local schools. He needed a quality, affordable option, close to home and the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) was the obvious choice. While caring for his father, John took several courses, including developmental math courses to brush up on his rusty math skills. Sadly, his father’s condition deteriorated, and he passed away.

Exhausted and grieving, John returned to class the day after his father’s death, propelled by his father’s words. “I could hear him saying – I need you to continue and not quit,” John shared. CSM provided a supportive environment for John. He received flowers and encouragement from the college’s leadership and professors. He was nominated for and became a National Science Foundation STEM Program CSM Scholar. And after graduating from CSM in 2013, John went on to obtain his baccalaureate degree from Bowie State University, and his master’s degree in biotechnology from John’s Hopkins University. Currently, John works as a validation scientist for Opentrons, a biotechnology firm that develops diagnostic tests – a company he started with in 2019 in their pandemic response laboratory. Soon, the CSM alum will begin his PhD in microbiology at Howard University.

John credits his time at CSM as the catalyst to his current success. “I obtained a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, which helped me find a fulfilling career, none of which would have happened if I hadn’t started over at CSM.” 

Community college students don’t fit the traditional college student stereotype. They vary in age, background, and socio-economic status. They often work multiple jobs and juggle competing priorities, which adds greater significance to their success. Over and over, through their grit, resilience, or just sheer determination, our students overcome barriers, navigate obstacles, kick open doors previously closed to them, and take hold of a better future – all because of the affordable, accessible, and high-quality education provided by their local community college.  

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