When thinking of a college degree, most people imagine ways it can improve their lives and those of their loved ones. However, the impact of higher education often extends well beyond an individual’s immediate circle.
This accomplishment can have a positive ripple effect that can reach one’s entire community. Kathi Bushway, a former Meridian Community College student and C2C program participant, is a perfect example of the sheer impact completing a college degree can have on a community.
School took a backseat to supporting others
After completing three semesters of college, Kathi was still unclear about what she wanted to study. Since her husband-to-be was on his way to completing his degree and finances were limited, Kathi made the decision to leave school and start working full time to support his schooling. Through all of the challenges Kathi would face moving forward, the thought of returning to finish what she started never escaped her mind.
Tragedy struck but a seed was planted
Fast forward a few years to a tragic event that impacted Kathi’s life following the birth of her first two children. Kathi was on top of the world with the happy family she had always wanted when the unthinkable happened. Her seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer. In an instant, Kathi’s life was flipped upside down. Once again, Kathi’s focus and priorities were on supporting and caring for her loved ones.
Kathi’s attention and energy were centered on helping her daughter through numerous occupational, physical, and speech therapy sessions each week. Kathi quickly developed in-depth knowledge of the practice and she grew deeply appreciative of the professionals providing the care. She saw first-hand the impact these experts had on the patients they served. Largely because of this therapy, Kathi’s daughter made a complete recovery. The experience left a lasting impression on Kathi as well. It planted a seed that would eventually direct Kathi’s future career path and shape her relationship with her community.
The perfect time to return
As Kathi’s kids got older and her role as a full-time mom was less intensive, she had time to reflect on her own ambitions. She was determined to pursue a real career, not just a job. Partially motivated by her positive experiences with her daughter’s doctors, Kathi’s thoughts turned to a career in occupational therapy. After researching the field further, she learned that she would need a degree even in a role as an assistant. That’s when she looked into Itawamba Community College’s (ICC) Occupational Therapy Assistant program. She got in touch with Emily Tucker - an ICC recruitment coordinator and, unbeknownst to Kathi, also a C2C Coach.
Emily recognized that as a returning adult student, Kathi was eligible for the C2C program. She encouraged her to apply and within no time, they were putting pencil to paper and determining exactly what she needed to get into the ICC program. With the help of C2C, Kathi was able to complete the prerequisite classes online. At the same time, she needed to prepare for the ACT since it wasn’t a requirement when Kathi graduated from high school.
According to Kathi, the most impactful assistance she received from her C2C Coach was the clear direction and encouragement she provided while remaining honest about how difficult the process would be. Emily made sure Kathi knew how important it was to perform well in her classes and on the ACT to qualify for the program. It was this combination of motivation and honesty that helped Kathi put forth the effort she needed to succeed.
At this point in her life, Kathi also needed to shift from being a caregiver to accepting help from her husband and kids to focus more on her studies. “I had to let my family help me”, Kathi recounts. It was difficult to let go of control at first, but her family was supportive throughout the entire process. They gave Kathi space to study when she needed it, offered her words of encouragement, and helped out around the house to free up time for her.
Another challenge arises
After nailing her classes and exams, Kathi was accepted into the program. A decades-long dream was finally coming true, but no sooner had she accomplished that goal, another challenge loomed on the horizon. Right before the program began, Kathi was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular condition known as Myasthenia Gravis, but this setback was not to stop her. Kathi found herself returning to occupational therapy, this time as a patient.
Thanks to the therapy she received, her trusting relationship with her C2C Coach, and the support of her degree program’s director, Kathi successfully completed ICC’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program. Once again, Kathi’s life had been personally touched by the positive impact occupational therapists had on those they served. This only reinforced her desire to complete the program and pursue a career where she could serve her community.
Serving her community
A few decades after leaving college without a degree or clear career path, Kathi could now refer to herself as a graduate and an Occupational Therapy Assistant. She had successfully returned to college enrolling at Itawamba Community College, nailed her qualifications, and completed the required course work to receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in Occupational Therapy Assistant Technology. Through her own health complications and those of her daughter, Kathi was intimately aware of how these professionals could have a positive impact on those they serve within the community. When speaking about her experience as both a patient and now as a provider, Kathi explained, “There’s a compassion and empathy I can bring when meeting with a client. At the end of the day, this experience definitely makes me a better therapist.”
Today Kathi is working in a pelvic rehabilitation center to help people with pelvic-related complications lead more fulfilling lives. When describing her work, Kathi says, “Everybody has hopes and dreams - things they want to accomplish, and sometimes it doesn’t go the way we planned…just because you can’t do things the way you used to, doesn’t mean that you’re not useful and it doesn’t mean that you can’t do things. As occupational therapy practitioners, we find ways to help you to do what you love.”
The real impact of a college degree
Kathi’s inspiring story shows how a Mississippi college degree can positively impact not only the graduate’s life but that of many others within their community. This effect isn’t limited to healthcare-related professions. In fact, anyone with a college degree can make a difference, and the stats back that up. Here are a few recognizable ways in which a college degree can go well beyond better employment and a more stable income to improving the lives of students and their community:
Leading a Healthier Life
Adults who complete college are more likely to practice healthier lifestyles than their non-graduate counterparts. For example, college graduates are less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise, and more likely to pass on those positive health behaviors to their children, positively impacting future generations in the process.
Affecting Generational Change
The National Center for Education Statistics tracked a group of high school students and found that only 59% of students whose parents didn't attend college enrolled in higher education. In stark contrast, children whose parents completed a bachelor's degree enrolled at a rate of 93%!. Proving that setting a good example by completing a college education can be a great way to increase a child’s likelihood of getting a post-secondary education as well.
Engaging in Civic Duties
Another study by the Pew Research Center found that individuals with college-level degrees are more active in effecting change by attending public meetings, engaging in protests, signing petitions, and other civil activities. These efforts help to make a community stronger by ensuring local voices are heard and positive changes are made, building a better community today and for future generations.
Helping the Less-Fortunate
If you hold a college degree, you’re also more likely to give back to the less fortunate than those with a high school degree. In fact, a report published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that degree holders are more than 10% likely to volunteer which directly impacts the health of your local community. According to the report, individuals with college degrees were also more likely to volunteer with more than one organization including religious, youth service, or education-related causes.
The C2C Program is the key to a brighter future
Are you ready for more? If you're eager to make a difference and return to school but can't seem to find the right path, Mississippi colleges and universities want to help. The C2C Program was designed specifically to help nontraditional Mississippi students return to college to complete their degrees so they can affect change in their lives, those of their families, and the greater community. Through C2C you can get paired with a committed C2C Coach who can help you find the quickest path to graduation based on your individual circumstances. Everyone’s path is different and a C2C coach can be there to support you from enrollment all the way through to graduation. C2C connects students with support services and there is even a renewable C2C Grant which helps qualified applicants cover some of the costs of the classes needed to complete a college degree.