Kristen Jackson

Central Carolina Technical College

"Especially during this pandemic, I think it's important not to get discouraged, even if you are coming up against obstacles or difficult times."

I was set to graduate high school in 2016 when I found out I was pregnant. That changed everything. My daughter was born in April 2016 — a month before I graduated from high school. As a single mom, I knew I needed to support her. I started looking into the options available to me. 

This is my story of how I designed my future.

 

How did you end up at Central Carolina? 

I did really well in high school, and graduated top of my class, so I had opportunities. I knew that Central Carolina had a scholars program that helped students in certain districts with tuition as long as you qualified and met minimum GPA requirements. 

I knew I had that under my belt, so I started looking around at what I might be interested in pursuing at Central. I ended up getting into the Engineering Design Technology program. I’ve always been an artsy person, so it felt like a good fit for me. I ended up getting into the program and  fell in love with it. I was thinking, “There’s no way I’m going to want to be an engineer. I don’t like math,” but then I ended up doing really, really well.

 

What surprised you about technical education? 

They have so many programs and things to offer students, like scholarships and grants.  Compared to four-year colleges, there’s not as much of a push to know exactly what you want to do from day one. They’re there to guide you through it. 

I had originally planned on going to a huge art school. Because I did so well with my academics, I ended up being able to get an internship through Central as a first-year student, which they don’t typically allow until you’re a second-year student. That internship allowed me to get into the workforce and really experience what I could be doing in my career. 

 

What have you overcome on your journey? 

Lots of people have gone through what I’ve gone through, like becoming a parent. I hope my story encourages others, especially during this pandemic when so many people are out of work. I can only imagine what parents are thinking as their seniors are graduating high school right now and they’re looking to go to college. My parents were not in a position to support me in college. Becoming a mom completely changed my life. 

I think it’s important that students don’t get discouraged, even if they’re coming up against obstacles or difficult times. No matter how hard things get, you have to just keep pushing and working towards your goal.

 

What have you learned about yourself along the way? 

I’ve always been a confident person, but the past four years of my life — becoming a mom and then getting through college — it was really difficult. I was working two jobs trying to get through school as a full-time student, and that definitely made me a stronger person. No matter how hard things get, if I keep working really hard for what I want, I’ll reach it. 

I went to work for the City of Sumter a month after graduating. They are a great employer. I met my husband and got married. We bought a house. I never would have thought I’d be at this place in life by 22 years old. I’m very thankful.

 

What motivates you to keep going? 

I think every mother probably says her children are her biggest motivators and it’s absolutely true. If it hadn’t been for my daughter, I don’t know if I would have been willing to work as hard, especially with working the two jobs and going through school. My husband is also a great supporter and we make a great partnership. 

 

What do you wish more people knew about technical education? 

Technical college is full of opportunities, whether scholarships or work-study opportunities or internship opportunities. There are just so many opportunities out there that people don’t realize. I would definitely tell people not to rule it out and go check it out for themselves. With this pandemic going on, and so many parents being out of work and unable to support their seniors, I suspect we’ll see greater interest in technical colleges since they are also more affordable. 

 

What has been the most exciting part of achieving your goals? 

I think the most exciting part about it is that I really don’t know what the future holds. I enjoy the unexpected. I came out of college with an associate’s degree and went straight into the workforce. I’ve already got two years of experience in my career, which is a big deal at my age. I have a government job and I’m only in my early 20s. There are so many opportunities even just within my career. A decade from now I could be in a different department running my own office. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know whatever it is will be good.

 

What advice do you have for high school students trying to make a decision about their future? 

Don’t let it stress you too much. Take your time. What scholarships could you potentially apply for? What grants could you apply for? Definitely consider technical college even if you think you want to pursue a Bachelor’s. Think about what you’re interested in. If you’re not sure, don’t jump into a four-year program. A technical college is a great place to figure out what you’re interested in. It’s a great starting out point.