Jodi Snyder

Spartanburg Community College

"The world is never going to know the light that you have within yourself unless you move beyond your comfort zone."

I’m from Minneapolis, but when I came to South Carolina, I fell in love with it and knew I wanted to create a life here. I was a single mother. I had my daughter when I was 20. When I realized I was going to have to start over in South Carolina — and that my previous education credits didn’t transfer — I knew I just couldn’t do it at the time. I had a young child and was pregnant with another. It was just too much, so I didn’t go. This is my story of finding my way back. 

 

What prompted you to finally jump back into pursuing your education? 

I came close two times before I actually did it. I would start looking at classes and thinking about the route that I wanted to take, then something would happen and it just wouldn’t work out. But it was always in the back of my mind.

My daughter, who is 16 now, was chosen to be in an early college program at Spartanburg Community College called SKETCHES. They picked her from a pool of 200 kids. Realizing she was going to be on campus taking college and high school classes, I just kept thinking to myself, “If my child can take these classes and get over the hump, surely I can do my best Jackie Joyner and hop over that first hurdle, too.” So I did. My daughter was my inspiration, and it just snowballed from there.

 

What did you have to overcome along the way? 

I don’t think I was as serious about college as some of my friends my senior year of high school. My mind just wasn’t really there. I knew that I needed to go. I had a new car. I could live at home and wouldn’t have to pay for room and board. That was a big deal because I was going to have to pay for a lot of my education as the oldest child of seven. 

My parents are great. They offered me help, but couldn’t pay for my education. I guess as a young person, that felt somehow discouraging, so I decided not to go to college right away. A few months after graduation I got pregnant. At the same time, my high school sweetheart and I had reached a fork in the road of our relationship. I knew I wanted something different, and that I wanted the best for my daughter. With the help of my family and friends, I got out of that relationship and just “single-momed” it for a while. My mind was focused on being a good mother and surviving; trying to figure out how to find a decent job and an apartment. I was juggling a lot.

I enrolled in school once during that period, but finances and stress deterred me from actually following through. I knew I wanted to go to college. I knew that I didn’t want to make minimum wage for the rest of my life. All of my friends had gone to school and they were all becoming really successful in life.

I started working at a daycare and worked my way up the ranks. Eventually, I started teaching at a private school as an assistant for the K3 classroom. When they saw how great I was with the kids and my passion for teaching, they asked me to stay on and become the lead teacher the following year. I just stayed in the comfort zone of that private school because I didn’t have to have my teaching certificate.

Once I’d been in the classroom long enough to build my confidence, I knew what I had to do. Going back to school was outside of my comfort zone, but I had to do it. How could I be an example to my kids and tell them that they need to go to college when they knew I had gone but hadn’t finished? I wanted to practice what I preached — so I did. And I never looked back.

 

What fears were holding you back? 

I’m sure going to college for the first time is daunting for any student, but even more so for non-traditional students. We’re working. We usually have children. We have homes and adult responsibilities. We have to figure out how to juggle all of it. 

I was also afraid I was going to be the oldest one in the classroom and would be embarrassed if I didn’t know something. Math is my weakness. I knew I was going to have to take these classes that I hadn’t taken since 2000, and I was afraid I was going to look stupid if I didn’t know something the younger students did. 

 

How are you feeling now that you are graduating? 

I’m ecstatic. There were times — and my family can attest to this — when I was like, “I can’t do this” while crying after a five-hour tutoring session. That is perseverance and determination — to feel you’re at your breaking point and still push through. I have met so many wonderful people along the way. I have experienced so many things that, had I not gone back to school, I would have missed out on. My kids have an even better role model now that they’ve seen me really struggle and push for my education. They realize it’s that important and non-negotiable.

 

What misperceptions do you think people have about technical education? What would you like to tell tem? 

I remember thinking maybe this was the route I needed to take because I had heard it was cheaper and easier than a four-year university. That latter part isn’t necessarily true. A lot of my SCC professors also teach at Wofford or at Upstate. We get the same education; educators at a technical and community college level just take a little bit more time with you. The classroom sizes are smaller. They get to know you by name, not just as a number. 

There is also a misperception that the technical college experience is not like the four-year college experience. That’s so untrue. The only real difference is that you don’t stay on campus. You get the same type of education with the added benefit of a little extra support. There are so many programs that people just don’t know about — and so much going on. They’re trying to get clubs together for the LGBTQIA+ community. They’re trying to have conversations with the black community about the injustices going on. It’s so much more than just a community college.

 

How will your SCC experience impact the next part of your journey? 

Every experience in a person’s life is very important. This experience pushed me outside of my comfort zone and encouraged me to really blossom. It felt like a rebirth. I don’t feel like the same person I was three years ago. I’m more confident and more involved with my community.

 

What advice do you have for students considering technical education? 

For traditional students, I’d say it’s an easier transition than going from high school right into a four-year college. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking four-your universities — I’m transferring to one! I’d also advise them to continue pursuing their education right out of high school. Don’t take a break. The minute you allow yourself that little bit of lag time, it’s so easy to say, “I’ll just wait just a little longer. Let me just go backpacking in Europe first.” There’s always going to be a reason to keep putting it off. 

For nontraditional students, I would say it’s never too late. I had classmates who were in their sixties and rocking it better than some of the younger students. Find your community when you go, and don’t worry that you’re going to stick out because of age or anything else. Everyone’s really focused on their own education. The world is never going to know the light that you have within yourself unless you move beyond your comfort zone, get out of the box you’re in and allow your light to shine.