Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 27, 2010

Eastern’s 18 grads from four local counties

— MOOREFIELD — Ranging in age from 20 to 52, and hailing from four Potomac Highlands counties, 18 students earned diplomas from Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College last December. “Our 18 fall semester graduates are a fifty-percent increase from our totals a year ago,” said Dave Jones, Eastern’s student support services counselor.

Acknowledging that the tough economy’s tightened job market has produced some of that increase, Jones also said that “Eastern’s reputation for catering to individual learning needs and fostering student success grows stronger every semester. And in the Potomac Highlands, it’s that word-of-mouth testimony that’s often the most trustworthy.”

Several of last fall’s graduates confirmed that grapevine report. Receiving their associate degrees in several fields—from business management and occupational studies to early childhood development and individualized career studies — they credited their accomplishments, in part, to the flexibility, affordability and quality of their Eastern experience.

“Overall, I would rate my experience there as being very good and very successful,” said William Koontz, owner and operator of West Virginia Master Builders, a small contracting business in Moorefield.

Koontz found that Eastern’s flexible course schedule allowed him to fit his college classes into his busy work week. “I had a couple of daytime, a couple of evening, and a couple of online courses,” he said, “so I could work and pursue my education at the same time.”

After five years running his contracting firm, Koontz wanted to sharpen his business knowledge and skills, especially in “the accounting aspects,” he said. “All of the business instructors I had taught really well, and what I’ve learned on the accounting side and the marketing aspect is directly beneficial to my work.”

In addition to the day-to-day impact his college learning has already had on his job, the degree also qualifies him to enter a bachelor of applied science program in business management.

“Under Eastern’s agreement with Potomac State College, our graduates can transfer a minimum of 60 credits to that program,” said Seyed Mirkhani, Eastern’s academic program director for business technologies. “That’s just about half of the total credits William will need to complete the four-year degree.”

A 1992 graduate of Moorefield High School, Koontz also applauded the quality of the Eastern staff. “Everyone there did a really good job getting me enrolled and guiding me towards the objective of getting the degree. So if there’s anyone around the area thinking of not going to college, I encourage them to try Eastern. They know how to get you in the flow of things. And the tuition is really affordable.”

Amanda Sites, Eastern’s director of financial aid, agreed. “Whether through grants, scholarships or low-interest loans,” she said, “we can make college affordable for nearly everybody who wants to learn.”

For Moorefield’s Robin See, also a graduate last December, a scholarship linked to her work at the Hardy County Childcare Center helped pave the way. “My employer encourages us to take the ACDS [Apprenticeship for Child Development Specialist] program,” See explained, “and once we complete that, they encourage us to get the associate degree in Early Childhood Development.”

The ACDS program includes 4,000 hours on-the-job in a childcare center, and “in collaboration with Eastern, taking one course each semester for four semesters,” she said.

Partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Development program, Eastern also awards 33 hours of equivalent college credit to those who earn the ACDS certificate.

“Then I had to take nine courses to complete the balance of the college degree requirements,” See said. For ACDS-certificate holders, a scholarship from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission pays for one or two college courses each semester, books, and a small stipend for expenses such as transportation and child care.

See, who graduated high school in Pennsylvania three decades ago, also enjoyed “the flexibility of the Eastern program. If they didn’t offer a class that I needed, I took it online from Southern and New River, and transferred it back in.” Eastern also offered most of the courses required for the degree online, “and that allowed me to finish it quickly at home,” she said..

Her success at Eastern and her passion for the work have inspired See to climb the next rung on the college ladder. “Deb Backus, Eastern’s academic program director for general education and instruction, told me about the R.B.A. (Regents Bachelor of Arts) program,” See said, “and now I’m already enrolled in it through West Virginia University. So I’m working towards completing the bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

“Because I love children, and I want to continue working with children,” See emphasized, “and to prepare myself better as an asset to the Childcare Center.”

A passion for her field also motivated Katherine Fansler, of Mathias, to earn her associate in dcience degree at Eastern last fall, and to continue her studies this spring. “I like math and I love science,” she said, “and chemistry is like having both in one. And I love being in the lab.”

Because Eastern accepted one year worth of credit transfer from another nearby college that she had previously attended, Fansler needed only two additional courses at Eastern last fall to earn her associate degree. But due to her love for learning, “I took five classes in all — three online, and a science lecture and a lab — for 13 credits.”

Fansler chose to transfer to Eastern “because I was looking for a small atmosphere, a smaller class size, and a one-on-one kind of attention–even more than I had at my other college,” she noted.

“The services at Eastern are amazing,” Fansler said, “and the number one aspect here is the staff. They really care about you. You’re a person here, not just somebody on a list. They know you, and they see you, and they always take care of you,” she said.

Enrolled for an additional 13 credits this spring, Fansler, a 2006 graduate of East Hardy High School, is actively thinking about continuing college to earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. “After this semester, I’ll have only one more year to go,” she reasoned. And beyond that, she said, pharmacy school has always appealed to her.

Michelle Hines, of Dorcas, shared Fansler’s feelings about the college. “The teachers that I’ve had in the classroom, and the staff, are great. You feel at home there — not like a stranger. They know you when you come in the door, and they’re always willing to help.”

Hines took advantage of Eastern’s flexible credit transfer policy and its convenient access to courses. When she came to Eastern in the summer of 2008, Eastern accepted the 29 college credits she had previously earned elsewhere. She wanted to complete her degree in business management, but with two children and a fulltime job at American Woodmark as a cycle count analyst, “I could only take a course here and there as a part-time student,” she said. “And Eastern has online classes that were more convenient for me. I can do them after the kids go to bed or while they’re at school.”

Hines looks forward to re-entering the workforce with her an associate in applied science degree, and plans to add a second college credential on top of that. “I’m taking three more classes online this spring,” she said, and plans to earn a certificate of proficiency in accounting this May. In the future, she may also apply those certificate credits towards an A.A.S. in accounting.

She believes her Eastern credentials will give her an edge in the tough job market, she said, and she’s “hoping for a job in accounting or the management field.”

When the factory where Romney’s Pamela Loughran worked shipped her job overseas and closed down, she also decided to register at Eastern for the A.A.S. degree in business management. She reasoned that going back to school to learn new skills would give her an edge in the job market.

“WorkForce West Virginia has a program that pays for you to go back and get a degree and learn a new trade,” she said. As a dislocated worker, she qualified for financial aid through the Department of Labor’s Trade Assistance Act, managed in West Virginia by the state employment office. “And I like working with people,” she said, “so business is a good field for me.”

A 1982 graduate of Taylor County’s Grafton High school, Loughran had been away from formal schooling for nearly a quarter of a century. So when she started at Eastern a few years ago, she expected a hiccup or two. “There were times when I thought I was too old for it,” she admitted.

“But all of the Eastern staff I dealt with were really helpful,” she said. “If I had any problems or questions, I knew I could contact somebody and they would help me get through it.”

Even though she found that “a lot of things were different” from the last time she’d gone to school, she quickly took hold of the new technology Eastern employs to bring college classes to learners in six Potomac Highlands counties.

“One of the things I really do like about Eastern are the online classes they offer.” She also enjoyed the distance learning courses that she attended through closed-circuit, real-time video hook-up in Eastern’s regional access center at Hampshire High School.

“I ended up having to go to Moorefield for my classes only the first and last semesters,” she said. “All of the semesters in between, I did online from my home, or at the Romney access center.” The flexibility of Eastern’s distance learning options allowed Loughran to study full-time while still devoting herself to a busy family schedule.

“And the teachers at Eastern are amazing,” she said. “They would help me with anything.”

Preparing herself for the recession’s more competitive job market also lay behind Amy Kidwell’s decision to earn her college degree. “I chose to go back to college after seven years to finish my nursing degree,” said Kidwell, who lives in Levels. Before she could do that, she indicated, she needed to complete a number of additional pre-requisite courses.

“And I chose Eastern because it’s close to home,” she said.

Starting as a part-time student in 2007, Kidwell also liked the “one-on-one attention” that Eastern’s staff provides. “Because I had many credits coming in that I could transfer to Eastern,” she recalled, the college’s student support and academic counselors advised her to register for the A.A.S. in Individualized Career Studies, a program that allowed her to take many pre-requisite courses that she needed to go on in nursing and at the same time offered her a quicker path to an associate degree.

“Learners who bring to Eastern a solid background of coursework, or workforce or military training credits, can convert them to college credits,” said Eastern counselor Jones, “if they meet state-approved equivalency standards.”

So the ICS program encourages students who, like Kidwell, have specific career objectives that Eastern’s existing degree programs may not meet, Jones said, to combine transferrable credits with a unique selection of career-focused courses. A faculty committee, with input from professionals in the student’s chosen career field, makes sure that each individually-proposed program meets or exceeds statewide college standards.

“And with the small class sizes at Eastern, you’re not just another face in a crowd,” Kidwell said. “They knew who you are, and they're available — and not just during class hours. They give you their phone number and tell you to contact them whenever.”

A 2000 graduate of Hampshire High School, Kidwell currently works fulltime as a certified nurse aide at the Dawn View Center in Fort Ashby. (She also does part-time office duty at the Peterkin Conference Center in Romney.) Now that she has earned her associate degree, Kidwell has gained admission to a nursing program in Hagerstown. After finishing her nursing degree there, she plans to work in heart care.

Other Moorefield residents earning the A.A.S. degree last fall included Jennifer Evans (Early Childhood Development) and Sasha Helmick (Business Management); and Andrea Walters earned the Associate in Arts degree. The graduation paperwork for one additional Hardy County resident is pending.

From Hampshire County, Mary Dennison of Springfield also earned an A.A.S. degree in Business Management from Eastern last fall; and Steven Hott of Kirby earned an A.A.S. degree in Individualized Career Studies. Mary Markell of Romney earned a College Certificate in Business Management.

Eastern‘s fall graduates from Grant County also included Scherr’s Jennings Lambert Jr. (A.A.S. in Occupational Development, Instrument Technology); and Petersburg’s Chelsie Turner, who earned both the A.A. and the A.S. (Associate in Science) in General Studies.

Mineral County’s Robert Redman (of Keyser) earned an A.A.S. degree in Occupational Development, HVAC/R Technician, and Allison Robinson (also of Keyser) completed the A.A.S. degree in Early Childhood Education.

Joseph Harman, of Garrett County Maryland, earned an A.A.S. degree in Occupational Development, HVAC/R Technician.


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