Northeastern Technical College
"I've silenced the naysayers. Their doubt definitely fueled my determination."
I was a sophomore attending Spring Valley in Columbia when I met my husband and decided to drop out of high school. I became a mom shortly after, and went into early education with a focus on autism therapy. While I loved that job, ever since I was little, I had wanted to be a veterinarian. Having dropped out of high school without a degree, however, I just didn’t think that was in the cards for me. This is the story of finding my clear path from an uncertain future.
In order to be promoted in my therapy job, I needed to have a high school equivalency. I studied really hard and got my GED, which was terrifying because I hadn’t done school since age 15. I didn’t know that I wanted to commit to the eight years of schooling required to be a veterinarian, but I knew that I wanted to be in the medical field so nursing was a great backup plan.
My husband is an officer. When we moved to Bennettsville, I found Northeastern. I wanted to start my prerequisites, but just getting back into school was scary since I hadn’t taken classes in a couple years. When I went and signed up for classes, everybody was super nice, helpful and encouraging.
I had amazing teachers and met amazing friends. I took a full year and I got all my prerequisites out of the way. Biology was my first. I had anatomy and physiology with Ms. Mackey, which was my first time dissecting a large animal. That experience encouraged me to reconsider pursuing a career as a veterinarian.
I did a full year before transferring to a four-year university, Francis Marion in Florence, ultimately moving on to Clemson University.
What did you have to defy or overcome on your journey?
I was a mom of two boys in diapers at the time I started at Northeastern. I not only needed something flexible, I also needed teachers to be understanding of my situation. I remember taking my sons to my introductory math class. The teachers involved them and made them feel like they were a part of the class. That’s how I made it through that part.
As a nontraditional student, I don’t get to just go home and study. I have to juggle being a wife and a mom while also trying to maintain a 4.0. I feel like that was a challenge, not an obstacle, but making it through that has also made me a stronger person. I call Northeastern a foundation. If I would have tried to go from dropping out of high school to Clemson University, I don’t know that I would have been as successful. Northeastern was a stepping block that helped me understand college.
What fears did you have about going back to school?
I remember going to orientation at the Cheraw campus. I liked it because there were others there like me. There were moms with kids standing in line waiting to get their IDs. Everybody was so supportive and encouraging. I felt included.
When I got my workload and realized I was going from a stay-at-home mom to full-time student, I felt nervous because I’ve always wanted to succeed and I did not want to start and fail. I’m just glad that I didn’t let that fear stop me from doing it.
What was your motivation?
I want to set an example for my family. I want them to know that there are options and that education is not terrifying and they can do it regardless of life circumstances. I’m a first-generation college student and I want to be better for them. I want them to pick a career that they love. I didn’t see myself being happy unless I took all the steps to become a veterinarian. I want my kids to know that they can do whatever. It’s a cliché to say, “Set your mind to something and do it,” but if you don’t have that mindset, you’re not going to get to where you want to go.
What did you learn about yourself along the way?
I’ve learned not to doubt myself. I doubted myself when I signed up for those first classes. I thought that I was going to fail and I did not want to do that because there were people telling me that I would not succeed going back to school. I wanted to prove them wrong and also prove myself wrong. I wanted to show myself that I could do it. When I came out that first semester with all As, I was like, “Maybe I can do this again.” That gave me the encouragement to go to a bigger university. I just graduated my final semester and I’ll be on the President’s List, but I don’t feel like I would have been there if I hadn’t started at Northeastern. It just gave me motivation to keep going and made me believe in myself.
What about all the people who said you couldn’t do it?
As far as academic self-confidence, I didn’t have any because I had dropped out. There’s a stigma that people who drop out of high school aren’t going to do anything with their lives. Unfortunately, I had family members and friends who said, “I don’t think you’re going to succeed, you’re not going to do well. You can’t just drop out and then step right into a college atmosphere.” Once I made it through Northeastern, they said, “Well, that was just a technical school.”
I got into Clemson based on my grades at Northeastern. I graduated, I’ve made the Dean’s list and President’s list and now I’ve gotten into the vet school at the University of Georgia, which is so competitive. There are only 30 vet schools in the country and they are nearly impossible to get into. Most people have to apply several times to get accepted. I feel like at this point I’ve silenced the naysayers, but their doubt definitely fueled my determination. I could have listened, not gone back to school and maybe settled for something that I didn’t want to do, but I didn’t. I used that as a stepping stone and I feel like it actually helped me and encouraged me instead of putting me down and holding me back.
What kinds of sacrifices have you had to make along the way in order to succeed?
I don’t think people understand what it takes to go to college. It’s constantly on your mind. It’s not like a 9-to-5 job where you get off and then you can forget about it. You go to class, you come home and then it’s study time. You try to fit in family life and personal life, but it’s hard. For me, the struggle was trying to find a balance between school and playing with the kids and trying to be a wife and cook dinner and keep the house clean.
It did teach me time management skills. In order to succeed, you have to figure out that balance. That has prepared me well for my next four years in vet school, which will be the hardest four years of my life.
What’s the most exciting thing about accomplishing your goals and taking these steps?
Knowing that in four or five years I will be living the life that I’ve imagined since I was a child. I will be a doctor. I will be doing what I absolutely love because I didn’t settle. That means a lot to me and my family. My kids are proud of me. I have a sense of accomplishment and pride in myself because I didn’t give up — even when it was extremely hard. I just kept going and I continue to keep going.
What misperceptions do you think people have about technical education? What would you like to say to them?
I didn’t feel the stigma when I signed up. I went to campus. It was a real school with real teachers. The classes were hard. You don’t just get an A for showing up to class. I had to study so hard. The prerequisites are doable, but they’re difficult. They are a foundation for how to study and manage your time. The classes that pertained to my major were extremely difficult. I was up at 3 a.m. some mornings studying for anatomy and physiology, but I loved it.
I don’t think there needs to be a stigma around technical education. It’s a foundational step. I know tons of people who take their classes there because it is a little bit more financially reasonable to take classes at Northeastern and you still get the education that you’re going to need. I took medical terminology at Northeastern and I still use those things five years later in my classes now.
How did affordability factor into your decision to go to Northeastern?
At the time, we were a single-income family. My husband was working to support me and the kids so that I could go to school. The fact that they give you a good education without going into a ton of debt is amazing.
What advice do you have for others considering technical education?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started Northeastern. I knew what my end goal was, but I wasn’t sure if that was achievable. Go and take those classes, because either way you will need those foundational classes. You can get those at a technical college. I just feel like anybody who is considering going to college at all should take their foundational classes there, experience the college environment and decide if that’s something you see yourself doing for the next several years of your life.
Technical college is for everybody. It’s for high schoolers that need to figure out what they’re doing in life. It’s for people that need a flexible schedule. People wondering if they should go back to school. I tell them that their local technical college is probably their best bet because it’s not going to take all of your money. You can decide what you want to do — and what is right for you.