Greenville Technical College
"Technical colleges build people up so they can fly when they graduate. We're shooting for the stars."
My name is Ja’Marcus Smalls, and I’m from a small town in South Carolina. I come from a background of educators, law enforcement officers and military personnel. I’m very family-oriented, and come from a religious background. My mom and grandfather are pastors, so I’m really church-oriented. I like to have fun, live life and be a game-changer.
In high school we had a college career day, and several colleges participated. I applied to USC Columbia and Clemson to see which schools I would get into. I wanted to go to a college that was far from home — but not too far from home — so I could have a new experience and get a different perspective on life. I ended up taking a year off, went to work for my local school district and then applied to Greenville Tech.
At Greenville Tech, I can inspire others and create an environment that makes everybody feel safe. It has also given me a chance to hone my leadership skills through the Call Me Mister Program and the student government association. Being in the choir also allows me to shine and help others.
If not for Greenville Tech, I really don’t know where I would be right now. I’ve had to overcome different challenges, including being hospitalized for heart problems. When I needed money to pay for housing, I had to ask friends and family for help. Without those people in my life, I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing today.
How did the stigma around technical college impact your plan?
When I was in high school, four-year universities were the thing. Clemson, USC, Coastal, SC State — that’s where they aim for you to go. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but I had to play pros and cons. When I think of a four-year university, it’s a lot of money. With technical college, it’s still the away-from-home experience, but cheaper. I’m getting my prerequisites out the way now. When I graduate from Greenville Tech, I can jump right into Coastal Carolina’s Bachelor program and get my education degree.
Technical colleges are more hands-on. The experience is more engaging and has more face-to-face contact. When you go to a four-year university, it’s hands-on, but sometimes, depending on where you go, you become a number rather than a name.
What have you overcome on your journey?
I got bullied a lot, especially in elementary and middle school, which was emotionally and physically draining. It caused a lot of problems, including making me look at people differently. It caused me to value friendship and personal relationships differently, because you have to be very careful of who you call your friend and who you associate with.
Also, my dad wasn’t really in my life, so I depended on my mom for everything. She’s a really strong woman; an educator who teaches sixth grade. There were times we lived paycheck to paycheck, not having money to go shopping or buy groceries. That inspired me to decide, “I don’t want to live like this. I don’t want my future wife and kids to have to live like this. I don’t want my mom to live like this, either.”
That has pushed me to reach for my greatness and my destiny. I want to prosper. I want to be the game-changer. I want to be someone who walks in the room and others say, “He changed everything.” We all go through adversity in life, but it’s not about how you fall, it’s about how you get up.
What’s next for you?
I will be going to Coastal Carolina University to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in middle-level education. Long term, my ultimate goal is to become the South Carolina State Secretary of Education. I want to start off teaching in the classroom and then move through to become an administrator, a superintendent and then hopefully Secretary of Education.
How has the financial benefit of technical college impacted you?
Going to a technical college allowed me to save more money than I would have at a four-year college or university. Instead of spending $30,000 a year, I’m spending $6,000. That’s a huge difference and a lot of money.
What advice do you have for high school students considering their future plans?
Check out the demographics. Look at how much four-year college costs vs. technical college. Look at your life and how that fits into it. Will you really benefit and prosper at a four-year university, or are you just going there because somebody else is? Also, start now. If you’re a ninth grader, start thinking about your future now. Don’t wait until you’re a junior or senior to start making a plan. Don’t wait until the last minute to weigh your options.
Technical colleges build people up so they can fly when they graduate. You’re not crawling or walking anymore, you’re running and flying. You’re shooting for the stars.