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From Kinston to Salisbury: A full-circle community college experience

My community college experience has gone full circle. From the east to the west, community college has been a pathway to success for me and my students.

I graduated from Lenoir Community College in Kinston, N.C. in 1977 as their first female student body president. Then I transferred to East Carolina University and became a teacher. I am now entering my 34th year in education.

I currently teach at the Rowan County Early College High School on the campus of Rowan Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury, N.C. where our students recently celebrated a score of A+ with no gaps and a 100 percent graduation rate.

Theresa (in black on the far right) along with her classmates from 1977 taken at Lenoir Community College in Kinston.

While attending Lenoir Community College, I worked part-time at a store at a mall in Kinston, as many young people do, proving you can balance work and earn good grades at the same time with determination. I maintained lasting friendships that we still continue today.

The quality of education I received prepared me to go right into my major and graduate on time to start teaching in the fall after commencement. I chose to earn an Associate of Arts in liberal arts. My hard-working parents struggled financially to put me through school, so living at home for the first two years was a “win-win” for all of us. I proudly display my degree certification in my classroom today, inspiring my students that theirs will be a path to success.

Today, I am in year seven teaching at the Rowan County Early College High School on the north campus of Rowan Cabarrus Community College. We are very proud of the work our students do. They work hard to apply for our program through a rigid application process. They are chosen through a lottery process that matches the demographics of our Rowan Salisbury School System.

The students start right away taking college classes alongside their high school curriculum. We have clubs, prom, service projects, societies (like the National Honor Society), and student government. It is an honor to teach at an early college, especially one that has excelled. I wish this program had been around when I went to school because this would have been “right up my alley.” Motivated students motivate other students.

As an educator with multiple perspectives, I see community college as a place where students can grow and explore options.

My brother attended Wayne Community College and studied how to operate heavy equipment. This opened an opportunity for him to work for the North Carolina Department of Transportation. He told fascinating stories about driving in and out of excavated phosphorus mines.

My classmates studied automotive mechanics, hairdressing, and more, and went on to have successful careers and owning their own businesses. One of my classmates went on the write for television comedy, another is in theater, while another has traveled all over the world with a degree in electronics. We are older now and get to look back and see where our community college degrees have taken us all.

There is value is starting as a big fish in a small pond, where you can live at home and gradually spread your wings. I can’t help but wonder if I had not chosen the community college as my starting point, if I would have been confident enough to run for school president. I can still remember the small class sizes, connections and lasting friendships.

Theresa Pierce

Theresa Pierce teaches World and American History at the Rowan County Early College in Salisbury, NC. She has taught in both private and public schools and is starting her 34th year in education. In addition to teaching, she volunteers as a historic docent in Rowan County.