Senator Kaine stated he had planned to begin with his own talking points and then open the discussion up for questions, but when he saw all the NCI alumni and students in the room he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear directly from them. He asked each individual to tell the degree(s) they earned and if/how NCI impacted that opportunity, and if there was anything he could do to develop better-informed policies at the Federal level. “If we write the laws with only traditional students in mind, then we are not representing an increasing number of students” who are going back to school under different circumstances, Kaine shared with the group.
Senator Kaine’s wife Anne Holton, former Virginia Secretary of Education and a current Virginia Department of Education Board member, was also in attendance.
“Anne and I will learn the most by hearing a little bit from each of you” and welcomed the group’s advice for improving the process for other non-traditional students.
A room full of students and graduates shared a similar message: despite challenges and obstacles in life, NCI created an opportunity to earn their degree and improve their lives.
Warren Rodgers completed his Bachelor of Social Work Degree from Norfolk State University at NCI in 2014. Though he started as a traditional college student, he felt he wasn’t truly ready to earn his education. “Later, I decided that I wanted to be in a position to help others better their lives as I was bettering my life. NCI was the perfect opportunity because I could not uproot my family and go to a traditional campus. Even though online education was available, I needed to be in a classroom with a peer group. The schedule allowed me to work full-time. There were long nights and weekends, but it was worth it,” shared Rodgers, Executive Director of Southside Survivor Response Center.
“I was one that would go back to school and then quit, go back to school and then quit. When I enrolled at NCI, I gained a family in my cohort of students who are there to support and encourage me all along the way. I will graduate in May, and I am proud that I have completed my goal,” added Marquita Kirby, current Longwood University student at NCI.
Many graduates, including Yolunda Scales, spoke to the motivation and inspiration of their families to get them through the process. “After getting my daughter through college, she encouraged me to go back to school and earn my MSW (Master of Social Work Degree). Continuing my education has opened doors in my career and even allowed me to become a professor within the Longwood BSW (Bachelor of Social Work Degree) program at NCI.” Scales earned her MSW through Norfolk State University at NCI in 2016.
“I was a product of the textile industry for as long as I could work there. Then, I went on to earn my GED and attended Patrick Henry Community College. Then, I decided that I wanted to pursue something even greater. I knew that I loved people and wanted to help people, so I decided to start the BSW (Bachelor of Social Work Degree) with three school-aged children and a husband at home. My BSW has allowed me greater opportunities in my career, and now I really enjoy the work that I do. I would not have been able to complete my educational goals if NCI had not been available to me. The education and my professors were great,” said Julia Campbell, a Norfolk State University at NCI graduate in 2011.
“I started the traditional route in school, but landed a great job and decided to put off completing my bachelor’s degree. Later, I moved to Martinsville, and I met with a professor here at NCI and decided to join a cohort. During my last year of school, I interned with Hooker Furniture and now work there today. NCI not only helped me earn my education but connected me with my employer,” said Michael Esdaile a Virginia Commonwealth University at NCI graduate in 2013.
Even though many of the graduates are labeled as “non-traditional students” because they did not go on to earn their degrees directly after high school, Tim Hall noted that he preferred for this category of student to be known for the mantra, “we don’t quit.” Even though Hall held career and family responsibilities, he would work well into the night to complete his schoolwork. Hall attended NCI to earn his MBA from Averett University in 2007 that provided the background and education for him to step into his current role as County Administrator for Henry County.
Kaine extended many thanks to the students for sharing their stories, which will help inform him of policy needs for the future, especially as non-traditional or “we don’t quit” students continue overcoming obstacles and improving their lives through programs such as those offered at NCI.