PENDLETON --- When Tyler Swaney entered Tri-County Technical College in 2012 as a Connect to College student, he set a goal to learn something new every day either in life or in his studies.

"I always want to move forward.  Life is about learning, expanding and growing," said Tyler, who is the first Connect to College graduate to be named one of Tri-County's Outstanding Graduates.  Earlier this year he was honored as the top student in the Automotive Technology program and will receive an Automotive Technology degree at the College's May 8 graduation. 

"I was honored by this vote of confidence," he said. "It made me feel like I was worth something."  It's the first academic accolade he has ever received. "It says good job, keep going and never stop," said Tyler.

The Connect to College (C2C) program has evolved to meet the diverse needs of area students by offering academically capable youth between the ages of 17 and 20 the opportunity to simultaneously earn their high school diploma and college credit, up to and including a postsecondary credential.  The first of its kind in South Carolina, C2C is a program for students who, for a variety of reasons, have faced difficult challenges in traditional high school environments. 

In August 2012 Tyler entered the C2C program as a senior from Pendleton High School.  He was anxious to continue his studies in automotive technology and to finish his high school diploma. 

His counselors and others at Pendleton High presented C2C as an option after changes at the school affected its automotive program.  He earned 16 college credits hours in addition to finishing his diploma in 2013.  "Being in C2C showed me a new way of life.  I saw how other people worked and acted in a college environment," said Tyler.

It's always been his career goal to be an auto mechanic, like his grandfather, and after graduation, his part-time job at Dodge Piedmont Ram Chrysler in Anderson will expand to full-time manager of the express lane. "I'll continue to learn from the head techs and shop foreman," he said. 

"Tyler has always had potential," said Tiffany Carpenter, support specialist in the C2C program. "He has never given himself the credit he should have.  We always saw him as a winner."

"I'm entering a different life now," said Tyler.  "I'm positive, I have a college degree, a new job, my grandfather, good friends and a bright future," he added.

"My career goal is to be the best technician I am meant to be.  This will be a lifelong career for me."  He says he will make time to come back and visit with Carpenter and C2C staff along with Trent Hulehan, Automotive Technology program coordinator.  "It feels like home at Tri-County.  Trent is the best instructor I've seen.  He became my mentor.  He and Tiffany are like my second family. I couldn't have done it without them."