AAliyah McKeithan

Denmark Technical College

"The teachers have patience, they communicate with you, they understand you're a person, too. It's really nice to know that they genuinely care about you."

My name is AAliyah McKeithan. I am studying business administration at Denmark Technical College, and I am the SGA president for the 2021-2022 term. What led me to come here was actually playing soccer. The college started their first soccer program ever, and my high school coach told me about the opportunity.

What was appealing about Denmark Technical College?

I’m from North Carolina, and I was really big on going to a smaller campus for my first two years of college. I’d done dual-enrollment classes in high school, so my original plan was to go to my hometown community college.

When I came to Denmark and toured the campus, I saw that there was campus housing, and that sold me because I was still able to stay on campus and get “the college experience” at a technical college. And because of my high school GPA, I got a presidential scholarship to come to the school with very little cost.

When I was in high school, I honestly didn’t understand the difference between technical colleges and universities. But after doing my own research and taking dual-enrollment classes, I realized that a technical college gives you the opportunity to deal with professors on a one-on-one level.

Has that helped the transition from high school to college?

There was definitely a transition being three hours away from home, not going home too often, and being around people I’d never really met or talked to. But what I like about the school is the family feel. Everybody knows each other. A lot of people are comfortable with each other and just being able to confide in people here was really, really nice.

Knowing my professors on a personal level also helps. If I don’t understand something in class, or I’m not really getting the material, I feel like I can stay after class to ask those questions. I just love the relationships I can build with people here.

Was the one-on-one attention a surprise for you?

A little bit! In high school, a lot of teachers said your college professors may not know you that well, or they may not be as understanding of certain situations, like if your assignment is late or if you miss class. They might not have patience with you. 

It was different coming here. The teachers have patience, they communicate with you, they understand you’re a person, too, and that you have stress and bad days. It’s really nice to know that they genuinely care about you.

Ms. Holman-Brooks is our champion. She makes sure all of our classes and grades are on track, that we’re set up for our major, and that we’re on top of everything. She makes sure everything is straight. She’s been there walking me through becoming SGA president, choosing outfits, helping with time management, or even just making sure I’m comfortable here when I don’t go home on the weekends.

She made me feel good about the choice to come to Denmark Tech and helped me get used to the transition to college.

What is your campus life like?

To be able to play soccer on a college-level has been amazing. I’ve met amazing players that I’ve learned from, and I’ve had opponents who have been amazing. It’s fun. I love competition, so that’s been amazing.

And living in an all-girls dorm is different. We’re yelling down the hall like, “I need this. Do you have this?” Or somebody will come in like, “Hey, do you have milk? Do you have a bowl?” It just builds a bond, and it builds relationships.

As SGA president, we also put on student activities at the school. Not a lot of students have cars, so we have to make our fun here. We’ve done a toga party; we did a midnight breakfast  with chicken and waffles at midnight; we’ve done two silent parties with headphones and three different DJs.

How has being at an HBCU impacted you?

At first, I wasn’t really too concerned about going to HBCU. I knew I wanted to go to an HBCU for university, but for my first two years of college, I was like, “Just go to school, get it paid for.” 

Then when I came here, I realized I won’t have any other opportunity like this. The experience of being around people that you know just get you. They understand you, they understand what you go through when it comes to race. It’s just good to have that understanding. I feel so comfortable with the staff because there’s no need to code-switch or anything.

I know when I get out into the real world, I’ll never have another HBCU experience again, so to have that at this time period of my life — it’s just amazing.

What did you have to overcome to get here?

My junior year of high school started pretty well, but then I just got in this very confusing and dark place. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I didn’t have motivation to go to school and to do my work and to just be a student anymore. Then COVID came. I was isolated from my friends, I had to stay home, and I couldn’t really go out. I couldn’t be in the classroom, and I couldn’t be around my favorite teachers. It just really sucked.

I didn’t get back into the classroom for my senior year because my mom didn’t feel it was safe to go back yet. It was really, really hard going from being around people, being around teachers, and having one-on-one relationships to being strictly online. 

It made applying to college even more difficult because I didn’t have anybody to help me through the process. My parents didn’t go to college, so it was hard trying to manage all of it by myself.

What are you looking forward to?

I’m looking forward to just creating something better for myself. Both my parents didn’t graduate from college, and it’s a big thing to show them that the sacrifice they made for me was worth it. 

I also want to be happy in whatever I do. I don’t know exactly what life is going to look like in five years, but I’m really interested in environmental things. Whatever I decide to do with my business degree, I want to connect it with being outside with the earth and nature.