Pathways to Learning

Diane Baumgartner

Inspiring people are everywhere in higher education particularly at community colleges.  Passionate instructors, dedicated administrators and hardworking students fill the halls.  However, the journey of every student is unique. Yet, the pathways to higher education can be remarkably similar for instructors.  Many excellent professors begin their careers as first-rate students.  They love the reading and writing challenges, thrive in accelerated high level math courses, and become increasingly confident in their skills.  When their chosen degree is completed, they begin their career teaching.  That had been my story.  I loved being on campus, the learning environment was everything I needed.

Conversely, not all students find enthusiasm for learning compelling.  Some are dismayed and anxiety ridden at the idea of beginning a course of study. Many do not have the desire, finances, or opportunity for a direct pathway to a degree.  For my colleague, Katie, the chance to attend college came later in life. A profitable family business was the focus for 20 years.  It was not until her eldest son was going off to college that she decided to finish her degree. Katie enrolled at a local community college on a part time basis. She had the desire to further her education for most of her adult life; however the choice to go back to a classroom, as a student, was overwhelming.

The plan to obtain a degree at 40 years old was not a common path.  The instructor was the only person in the room the same age.  The acceptance of that instructor, the welcoming nature, the space to be a peculiarity was crucial to Katie’s success.  The inclusive acceptance of the educator made the goal of degree attainment doable.  Without the feeling of belonging, despite differences, could anyone survive the doubts and challenges to self-confidence?  Perhaps they may not.

Katie earned an associate’s, a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.  It took persistence, grit, 15 years and 3 institutions of higher education. Receiving students into the fellowship of academia, no matter their circumstances or pathway, moves us all forward.  It makes communities stronger, the desire to learn enduring, and goals manageable. There are inspirational people in higher education especially in community colleges.  We meet them every day in our classrooms, hallways and break rooms. These institutions are here for everyone, no matter the path.