It really tugs on my heartstrings when I see many of my peers and awesome students graduate. Yes, I have one more year before I hopefully finish my thesis at RIT and I may – too – go through the motion of ceremony that happens in May of every year. During this process though, I cannot help but think about my alma mater and how I got to be where I am today.
My father once told me that a free education is the best education. I would whole-heartedly agree as well, but there was a problem: I tried. I attended a couple colleges through tuition-remission from my mom’s years of work at UVM in Burlington, VT, and the curriculums did not have the quality/community I needed/wanted/deserved at the time. My family could not afford to put me through college; I was limited. Logically my father was right. However, I eventually decided to put myself through college, not asking my family for financial assistance/involvement. Willing to buildup four years of loans in my name, and my name alone, I attended a college worth my debt despite it not offering scholarships or financial assistance for the many years I attended.
Champlain College was but a 2-year degree college expanding into a 4-year degree programs that I jumped into in late 2000. I graduated with an AS in Multimedia & Graphic Design in 2002 and continued onward to obtain the BS-flavor in 2004. It was then that I had the most amazing, transformative experience at the end of my degree program: Getting your first, salaried, fulltime-job-offer, Graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree and then getting Married to my best friend, Corinn. For someone who was living in subsidized housing prior to all this, it felt like an amazing, successful breakthrough in life – all while working and somehow eking out a Summa Cum Laude in the process.
The job that was offered to me was in the Information Systems (IS) department at Champlain College, where I started working just a month before I began the degree program back in 2000. I loved working for the college as it gave me great insight into not only how it functioned internally, but also how awesome the community was. By working for the college those first three years, I was introduced and met many staff and faculty who obviously did not work for the money, but because they were passionate about their work. The saying goes that if you love your job, it doesn’t feel like a job. In some weird level of reality, it feels like an extension of your family, or that’s how it was perceived to me while attending classes and working at the college. It was common to see staff wearing many hats though they seemed to never bat an eye about it.
Champlain College, at its core, is a Business oriented college. The values of innovation, collaboration and technology are deeply rooted in the tradition of the college and overtime they developed into very successful degree programs. The curriculums are both theory and hands-on, focusing students on applying what they learn in the classrooms to true-to-life and job experiences. The online program at the college has been very successful and I recall that crazy-interesting mutation in education: e-Learning via networks of wires throughout the globe. Online collaboration and learning quickly became a sensation of Champlain allowing many people to continue their education remotely. I was happy to witness and experience one thing in particular – the faculty still offered the same level of caring, access and education that you would find in the brick and mortar classroom.
My father-in-law jokes about how college is training wheels for adulthood. Somehow, coming out of Champlain College, it felt like I was a few years ahead, already responsible for my own actions and obtained that rare knowledge that helped make a smooth transition into the fulltime-working world. Heck, while working in IS, I was able to finish another BS in Computer Information Systems by 2007.
Eventually, one of the most amazing, entrepreneurial, well respected, awesome mentors (and friend), Ann DeMarle, put the bug in my ear that she was working on something new and wanted to see if I’d be interested in helping out. In the spirit of Roger Perry (the president of the college until 2005) and the college’s attitude to make sure Champlain College was never running out of pioneering-steam, Ann started the Emergent Media Center – focusing on how new media and technology can solve local and global problems. She started the center out of a closet, but then it grew with the many, amazing students who wanted to be involved. The cool thing was that it cultivated from just a few students into about 70+ diverse individuals, working concurrently on various projects sponsored by the UN, IBM, CIMIT, UVM, and many other businesses out there. This model of collaboration allowed these young-adults to quickly gain not only a crazy amount of proficiency in a short time of their college career, but many graduated with true, life-changing experiences. I really did have the best job in the world working alongside Ann, Ken Howell, Sarah Jerger, Julia Bond, Brendan Holt, Heather Kelley, Kevin Andrews and many others.
In 2002, Champlain started to also pursue Master level degree programs, yet transforming the nature of the college once again in a short period of time under Roger Perry’s presidency. Those programs expanded exponentially under David Finney, not to mention the development of the college itself. It was great to witness all these changes and I even considered pursuing a Masters degree after my BS, but got caught up in my work so that idea was put on hold. However, my wife heard about the MBA program at the college and decided she wanted to look into seeing how it could fit in while working full-time at Vermont Stage Company. She could not have made a better life decision.
After observing Corinn’s progression in the program, I couldn’t be more proud of where she is now. The MBA program required having that perfect level of education co-existing with your actual job, which continues that instilled learning experience I mentioned before. Corinn graduated from the program with flying colors in 2010 and is the reason today why she’s doing so well today. Following our move to Rochester for my pursuit of an MFA at RIT in Fall 2010, she wound up in a great job at Constellation Wines (now Constellation Brands) in Canandaigua, NY. She loves the company and they treat her awesomely. Just after two years working as the Administrative Assistant to the Vice President of Sales for the region, she pulled us down to Maryland/DC area, this past December, as she received her first promotion in her lifetime and CAREER! I like to believe that it’s not only that she’s a smart cookie, but also the education she went through at Champlain College built her up for great success. I believe her employer even pointed out the MBA made her stand out when she originally applied to Constellation Wines, and once the interview was over, they looked at her as a great investment to the company itself.
Champlain College is a community I am proud of. I continually check on Facebook to see many of my former faculty, colleagues and students post about their life and successes. I also take the time to participate in the game design/artist group when students have questions or need feedback about their amazing work and projects – I couldn’t be any happier doing so. I’m not the only one though; other alumni have been wonderful in continuing that sharing/collaborative/encouraging spirit that Champlain College instills. It does remind me of how the college grew as well, and it’s not all from tuition. Centers like the EMC do get funding through outside businesses as any other company would when contracting projects, but the only way the college and these centers are able to continue innovating at the level they do are through help and donations from alumni. Corinn and I know that a small bit goes a long way – we’re not big donors, but we do find ways in which we can help.
That’s the cool thing about working for a college for a bit, you see how the business side of things work and you get an understanding of how the money is spent to truly benefit a student at Champlain. While working with the students at the EMC, it was especially clear how much value the donations added to not only their experience, but the projects that benefited many-thousands of people locally and globally. The college does not have crazy Yale-like endowments, so it really does benefit from the alumni giving aspect: any dollar that is given gets reinvested into the community, education and that special experience that even I didn’t understand until I graduated.
After many years of my original educational debt almost paid off (though new educational debt accruing as I type), I can safely say – as you can probably tell from this wordy blog – the investment was more than worth it. I couldn’t be happier with my important choice to attend Champlain College and am proud to continue calling myself an Alumnus of the college. Nothing made me happier than to see my father finally supporting my decision after I graduated as he also could see that Champlain College was the best choice I could have made.
But yet, this is my story. Many other alumni of the college share similar stories of struggles and successes. So as a part of reflecting during this graduation season, if you have a story or simply enjoyed your educational experience, I would encourage you to reflect and consider donating today. The college has a unique opportunity in front of itself with this new campaign of getting many alumni to chip in to meet a pretty easy goal – any amount will help greatly. Please share the following link and express your story/appreciation in long or short form.
Share with me too – I’m always interested in hearing about unique stories about individuals who are passionate about what they do and how they accomplished their successes in life. Keep in mind that successes don’t just mean fat wallets – there’s quality of life amongst other things!
If you happen to share a similar experience at a different college, I would encourage the same exact sentiment. Everything is relative and I’m experiencing something similar in a different way at RIT right now. I think it’s always important to give back to the community that groomed us into who we are today, in some way, in the ways that we can. It takes a village and Champlain College happens to be what I would consider my home. Clearly if you read this far into the blog post, you would most likely agree. :o)