Date: May 11, 2021
(By Lisa Garrett)
Alexandria Smith Says TCTC Degree Is Her First But Not Her Last College Degree
PENDLETON, SC --- Alexandria (Allie) Smith gets emotional when she talks about the overwhelming joy and sense of accomplishment she will feel when she graduates – with honors – at Tri-County Technical College’s May 11 commencement.
It will be the first graduation ceremony she has ever participated in. But she says it won’t be her last.
Her grandparents are flying in from Arizona and her father is coming from New Jersey to celebrate the culmination of a long-held dream of graduating from college.
“I will be the first in my family to earn a college degree,” said Smith, 28, who was named the early care and education program’s outstanding student and will enter Southern Wesleyan University this summer to begin her bachelor’s degree in early education.
It was her third time at TCTC, working toward a degree and a better life. This time she says she had a different mindset, was more mature and determined from day one that this time it would work. “I knew there would be bumps along with way, but I was going to be successful.”
Student support resources, such as a new child care grant and later SC special needs vouchers, which pay for child care and are not based on income, were lifesavers. Other financial burdens were relieved when she qualified for lottery tuition assistance, Pell and SC need-based grants, and a Foundation scholarship.
“I always wanted to be a teacher. I just never thought I’d get there,” said Smith.
More than a decade ago, an honor student in high school, she got pregnant at age 16 and dropped out. She began working three jobs to support herself and her daughter. She earned a GED and entered TCTC but juggling jobs didn’t work. “Something had to go and it was school,” she said.
For the next five years, she had no career plan; she was just plugging along, working minimum-wage jobs. “I always wanted to continue my education, but I was a single parent and it was hard,” she said.
She continued to work as a cashier and waitress. It paid the bills so she continued. “Living on my own was difficult but I was getting it done,” said the Seneca resident.
Her oldest daughter’s father passed away seven years ago and several years after his death she married her husband, Cody. Her family now includes a stepdaughter and two sons, ages 4 and 3. Five years ago she re-enrolled at TCTC to take general education classes but again, dropped out.
“I hoped to be back one day. I have two boys, both special needs with autism and developmental delays and speech disorders. I saw what they needed and I wanted to learn how to help them and other kids. I knew I wanted to teach one day,” she said.
“I want to be a light in someone else’s story,” she added.
Two years ago she enrolled in the early care and education program and this time with a career plan. “I knew I would succeed. I made it happen this time.”
She credits her supportive husband, caring and compassionate instructors, grants and scholarships, and a shift in her outlook.
“My perspective changed. I want to help others. Before, the degree was for myself. Now, it’s for other people so it’s easier to push through hardships when you have that kind of a goal and it’s not all about me.”
She says instructors were there for her every day. “They are passionate about teaching and are very supportive,” she said. When Smith’s child care facility closed due to COVID-19, Program Director Meredith Dickens put her in touch with Kimberly Martin, part-time coordinator for the new Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grant. CCAMPIS is a new initiative at TCTC and is funded by a four-year $378,680 grant received last year from the U.S. Department of Education. The goal of the grant is to help low-income student parents persist in their studies and ultimately graduate from TCTC.
The grant initially paid for child care but she later qualified for the SC special needs vouchers which pay for child care and aren’t based on income.
Smith says the child care assistance was a “make or break factor” in her decision to remain in school this semester. She says she is grateful for these resources and the support from her husband.
“Now if have a mishap, I use it to push me forward, not pull me down,” said Smith, who weathered a surgery and hospitalization the last few weeks of this semester and powered through from a hospital bed on her laptop to complete an inclusion project.
“Allie is the kind of student who every teacher loves. She is passionate, dedicated and invested in the power of early education. Allie takes every assignment to heart and never fails to submit work with reflective qualities and critical thinking,” said Dickens.
Smith says years ago, a surgery near the end of the final semester would have derailed her. Not today. “I’ve learned how to push through. I want to be an example for my kids. My eleven-year-old daughter sees the importance of school. I want to serve as an example. She understands the struggles I’ve had. She is on the honor roll. She’s only in middle school but is talking about taking dual credit classes.”
“Allie has been given every reason to quit, and yet she persists. She has set her goals, and she will not stop until she reaches them,” said Dickens. “I believe that her family is her driving force. She wants to do better and to be better, to become a role model for her children. What she may not have noticed is that she also has become a role model for her classmates, colleagues, and the faculty whom she works with. Allie is a fierce advocate for inclusion, equity and diversity. She is an unassuming leader in the classroom, with interesting insights and perspectives to share. The early care and education family is so proud to call Alexandria Smith one of our own!”
About Tri-County Technical College
Tri-County Technical College, a public two-year community and technical college serving Anderson, Oconee and Pickens Counties in South Carolina, enrolls more than 9,000 students annually and offers more than 70 major fields of study, including computer technology, industrial electronics, mechatronics, nursing, and university transfer programs. Tri-County boasts the highest student success rate among two-year colleges in the state and ranks in the top one percent nationally for successful student transfers to four-year colleges and universities. To learn more, visit tctc.edu.