Shea & Ernest Linton
Northeastern Technical College
"When I got to Northeastern, I found so much support. It felt like everyone was there to help me accomplish my goals."
This story features an interview with father and daughter duo, Ernest and Shea Linton.
Shea: I’m Shea Linton, and I graduated from Northeastern Technical College in May 2021 with an Associate of Science. I was actually a dual-enrollment student at Cheraw High School, and I was the first in Chesterfield County to graduate with my associate degree before graduating high school. I always wanted to take dual-enrollment classes, but I had a really hard time getting started because no one at my high school had done it before, and my high school wasn’t sure how to facilitate that. So I went to Northeastern, and they helped me register for my classes. I ended up getting very involved there.
While I was there, I convinced my dad to join me.
Ernest: My name is Ernest Linton. I graduated from high school in 1997, and Shea talked me into going back and taking classes. She and my wife both encouraged me to do something that makes me happy instead of just working dead-end jobs, so I went back to school for the Unmanned Aircraft Program.
When I first got out of school, I worked in retail, then construction, and then I ended up doing maintenance on industrial boilers for 18 years.
How did y’all know that technical college was the right option for you?
Shea: I always knew I wanted to go to college. I want to become a pediatrician, and you have to go to college for that. In the seventh grade, I read about how somebody graduated high school a few states away with their associate’s degree. I was like, “Yes, I want to do this.” In ninth grade, I went to my guidance counselor with a plan to complete all my high school classes in the first two years, then take dual-enrollment full time. They thought I was crazy.
Once I got to Northeastern, I found so much support. I had my goals, and it felt like everyone was there to help me accomplish them.
Ernest: My wife encouraged me to do something that I love, and I’ve always had a hobby of flying R/C helicopters and airplanes. I’d never flown drones because I couldn’t afford one, but I took this program as an opportunity to learn how to fly one.
Shea: Another thing he was excited about was that the certificate takes less than two semesters. He started in October, which is like halfway through the semester, and then he graduated in May. He was excited because he got to graduate alongside me.
What was your perception of technical college before you attended NETC?
Shea: In Chesterfield County, we have a lot of people who do not have a college education. We’re one of the lowest in the state in terms of higher education attainment. There are not many people from my graduating class who went off to college — maybe 20 or 30 of us out of 150.
There are a lot of people who do not have family who have gone to college before, so they don’t really know how it is. They don’t have anyone to look up to. They don’t know if they’re college material. There are also a lot of people who have to take care of their families, so they go straight to work after graduation.
How has NETC helped you achieve your goals?
Shea: Northeastern was so supportive. Sometimes I was crazy and I would take 20 credit hours in a semester. They were like, “This is a lot. We’re going to be here to support you, but also know that’s going to be a lot.” They have resources there for everyone. Even if you don’t go to the college, even if you’re in the community, you’re able to access those resources.
During the pandemic, they even provided food boxes. That was just so helpful to everyone. And don’t even get me started our home Wi-Fi situation. We don’t have broadband access — it literally ends at our road!
Ernest: We actually got the internet right after we graduated, but we were in a program at NETC where you could get a laptop and Wi-Fi hotspot on loan from the college for free.
Shea: That type of stuff really helps because there are so many people who don’t have access to a laptop or the internet. Northeastern goes out of their way to solve those issues so people don’t feel like they can’t go to college.
Ernest: I met a logistics professor who was taking the same Unmanned Aircraft class as me. He kept trying to talk me into taking his class — and I would have if it was offered online. One day, he said he was looking for some help building his pool house, and he asked if I knew anybody. I needed the work, so I went over and helped him. We hit it off, and I’ve been friends with him ever since.
Since that day, he’ll send Shea $10 for lunch once a week and he tells me to tell her that if she needs anything at Winthrop, to just call. I feel like I made a friend that really changed the way I look at rich folk. We don’t hang out with too many rich people, and that really changed my thinking. He’s a really good guy.
Between that professor and Shea, they’re pushing me to learn more. I want to better myself and I want to take more classes. He’s always like, “You can do it. You can go back and take these classes if you want to.”
Shea: Another example is when I went to Washington, D.C. for the Association for Career & Technical Education (ACTE) conference. We got to speak to legislative aides on Capitol Hill. I was only 16, so my mom came with me. We went to dinner with Dr. Wagner, the president of NETC, and five members of the Area Commission, which is like the board of trustees. We got to talk one-on-one, and they were genuinely interested in what we had to say. Normally, you don’t get to talk to the board of trustees, but I felt like they really wanted to hear my story and they really cared for me as a person.
Tell us about the dual-enrollment and transfer experience.
Shea: As a dual-enrollment student, I transferred 78 credit hours to Winthrop, which is basically all of my credit hours. I’m in a strange position now, because even though I’m a freshman, I’m a junior, academically. I literally planned out my credits knowing exactly what would transfer, and I felt like it was a pretty easy process.
There’s an 86-course list that public institutions in the state of South Carolina have agreed to accept from technical colleges. I’m going to graduate from Winthrop in three semesters. I’ll have my bachelor’s degree at 19 years old.
What has going to technical college taught y’all about yourselves?
Shea: I realize how much potential I have and how strong I am. I’ve learned how to really trust myself. Northeastern really helped me understand that I can be independent, that I work hard, and that I can be proud of myself for that. Before going to Northeastern, I don’t really think I could say I was proud of myself, but now I can say that I am.
Ernest: I was surprised at how much more I want to learn! They have so many classes at Northeastern that I want to take. I could take the food truck class — I always wanted to own a restaurant. I just want to do more and learn more. I never thought I would want to do anything else, but now I want to go back and learn!
Shea: I know he was so nervous before. He was like, “I don’t think I’m smart enough to go back to school.” But now, he totally wants to go back to school. That’s so weird, because he couldn’t wait to get out of school when he first graduated from high school. I think it’s a totally different shift. I’m excited for him!