If you could choose one word to describe 2013 MECC Graduate Chris Smith, it would be persistent.
Smith’s path to college completion was anything but typical. It took him 19 years and four attempts to graduate from college. Despite his long journey toward a degree, Smith provides a resounding testimony that indeed, persistence pays off.
For Smith, completing a college degree was not about overcoming obstacles, but rather, finding his passion. Following high school, he attended MECC for a year but dropped out after losing interest in college. After his discharge from the Marine Corp in 1998, Smith attempted to go back to school several times. But like a resolution to lose weight or exercise more, college just didn’t stick.
“The reason why I came back really had to do with getting myself in spots where the jobs that I had were not going anywhere. I was getting closer and closer to the poverty level and I realized education was a way to get above it,” Smith said.
After being in the working world for a while, Smith said he began to realize that he could not advance without an education. His wife gave him the advice that he needed. “She told me that if I went back to school, I needed to pursue something that I was already interested in, something that I love to do already. I had these little electronic kits that I would always mess around the house with and I built our home computer myself. These were side projects that I did for fun. So my wife asked if Mountain Empire Community College had any programs with computers, or robotics. As it turned out, a robotics class was part of the industrial electronics program,” Smith said.
From the first day he enrolled in the program, Smith said he felt as if he had made the right choice. He credits his Instructor Roger Green with providing an interesting and challenging course of study, and Industrial Technology and Health Science Dean Tommy Clements for making him feel comfortable and supporting his goals. “Those two made the school experience a little more home like. It made a lot easier to complete the program. Their feedback was always immediate. They always answered whatever question I had and gave pretty good advice about career paths,” Smith said.
With a 3.8 average, Chris was able to meet the qualifications needed to become a trainee with Eastman Chemical Company, where he is currently employed. He hopes to complete two more degree certifications in electromechanical technology and computerized manufacturing and possibly work toward a four-year degree.
On May 10, 2013, Smith not only walked across the stage to receive his Associate’s Degree in Industrial Electronics, but he was also chosen to deliver the student address to the graduating class.
“College for me was a lot like climbing a mountain peak,” Smith told the crowd. “I was excited about the journey, but after a while I would see the same old tree or the same strange rock in the distance and they never seemed to be getting any closer. I have finally reached the peak of the mountain. And guess what I discovered? It’s not just trees and blue sky from the top of the mountain that you can see, but rather, you can view the whole world in one glance. There are so many more paths that can be taken and I am excited about my future journey.”