This time of year is very exciting, as many of our students are graduating and beginning the next phase of their lives. Our students’ stories are not only compelling and motivating, but are a wonderful reminder of our mission and why we exist.
As we highlight some of our students’ success stories in this issue of COCE Insights, I would also like to share a brief story of mine.
We all can think of individuals who made a significant impact on our lives, helping us see what is possible, believing in us or inspiring us to become better than we ever thought we could be. My journey is no exception.
When I graduated high school, I was a struggling adolescent lacking direction. My high school career could be described as a four-year stint of dramatic underachievement. My only choice after graduation was to attend a community college. My parents gave me a nudge, perhaps better described as a hard shove – I had to make the dean’s list or I was on my own.
Based on a strong push from my mother, I decided to major in computer science (back in the days of punched cards and vacuum tubes). While my first semester was a massive shock to my system, it required that I quickly develop a strong work ethic and heavy-duty study skills. I worked hard and somehow survived that first term. Looking back now, I realize that my competitive nature actually helped. I survived, built more confidence with each semester, and went on to graduate with distinction.
I had knee surgery two days before graduation, but I was determined to go to the ceremony, crutches and all. For the first time in my life, I was actually proud of my academic achievements, and I will always remember that graduation day. I went on to attend Rochester Institute of Technology and graduated with my bachelor’s in computer science, with honors. A decade later Xerox sent me through its Executive Development Program at the University of Rochester, where I earned my MBA.
During my tenure at Monroe Community College, one individual transformed my life in several ways. Ralph Szweda, who at the time was chairman of the computer science department, saw something in me and pushed me to levels I did not think I could achieve. He was demanding, tough and, at times, very direct.
I vividly remember one particular event that helped me on so many levels. When I was going through college, I had a very difficult time speaking in public and making presentations to large groups. I had a very bad case of stage fright and anxiety. It always bothered me. Several years after I graduated from RIT, Professor Szweda suggested that I teach an evening class. You can image my surprise at his suggestion. He told me I knew the material cold, so why not teach? I didn’t fully understand why he was so persistent, but six months later I decided to take him up on the offer.
I was petrified to get up in front of a group of people who were older than me. To get over the fear factor, I prepared and prepared and prepared for my first session. I was so very nervous but, somehow, I got through it. The subsequent sessions were easier as my preparation increased. I loved what I was doing and the challenge it provided. From that point on, I taught as many sections as I could, and eventually taught full-time. Developing that skill has served me well in my career and today I actually enjoy public speaking engagements.
I also developed a deep love of teaching and an understanding of the importance of preparation, as well as the role confidence and hard work play in an individual’s success. Professor Szweda helped transform my life by pushing me and giving me an opportunity to do something I would not have tried on my own. I am forever grateful, and I cannot thank him enough.
In COCE, our team applies these principles of making a difference each and every day, one student at a time. This is our mission, our brand; it is instilled in our culture and part of our DNA. We strive to be the BEST, and I constantly remind myself of what others have done to help me, and bring that concept to my job every day in hopes of paying it forward.
— CEO Steve Hodownes
College of Online and Continuing Education