Throughout this project, I’ve been slowly gaining a better understanding of the general consensus of feelings towards both community colleges and 4 year universities. With every new story that I write, I internalize a new piece of someone’s experience – a positive interaction with a teacher here, a frustrating experience there. With Thanksgiving just recently come and gone, I thought that today might be a good day for some reflections. So for this blog post, there will be no new story, just some musing from my own grey matter.
I want to make it immediately clear that this blog post is not slandering or slamming or dissing any type of schooling. I am not picking sides, but simply sharing what I have observed as an interviewer, as a student, and as an employee. As you probably know by now, I have been a homeschooled student, as well as being a student at both QVCC and UConn, and I have interviewed students who followed the same path I did, as well as students who took a different route. I have also tutored at QVCC as an employee, and at UConn as a private tutor. While I wish that every homeschooled student could have had the positive, rich, inspiring experience that I had, every parent and child is different, so I can’t make many conclusions about that experience. However, I have dabbled in the community college and 4 year university scene long enough that I think I have a fair amount of experience, so I’m going to take some time today to talk about what I’ve noticed.
Kudzai Zvoma – if you are a QVCC student, this name does one of three things to you.
1) It inspires a warm fuzzy feeling at the thought of a beloved, brilliant teacher, 2) your soul goes cold and your heart ceases beating as you remember the most terrifyingly intelligent, intimidating teacher you’ve ever had, or 3) you think of the math teacher that you’re either disappointed you never had, or intensely glad that you never had, depending on who your friends were. For me, I am the third person – someone who never had Kudzai as a professor, and didn’t know much about him other than hearing of his brilliance. I always wished I had him as a professor, but never got to know him until I started working in the Learning Center at QV. No matter what your stance on Kudzai’s math classes are, there is no denying that he is an intensely dedicated, hard working college professor, and I think he’s a great example of the general attitude found in community colleges. I work at the Learning Center twice a week, and every time I’m tutoring, Kudzai always walks through. This semester I’ve noticed Kudzai spending a lot of time with students, often sitting down and reviewing questions that they have before they take a makeup test. Sometimes this turns into a therapy session, as Kudzai helps calm their nerves before one of his infamously challenging tests. While not a scene you would often find at UConn, this is not uncommon at QVCC, but it’s the other students that Kudzai helps that make him stand out. Kudzai helps students from other math classes, and has even helped me, a QVCC alumni that he never had in class. Kudzai often asks for “UConn horror stories” from me, as he suffered through the hiking, parking, and weather horrors often found at the 4 year school. He often recounts his story from this summer of following trying to follow a map while on the UConn campus and being horribly lost because every street, building, and walkway known to mankind was under construction, while I tell him about the mile and a half I walk on a daily basis to get back to my car. However, one day recently we had a different exchange. I was frustrated with one of my teachers for not teaching me a concept that I was being graded on, and Kudzai was horrified. He asked if I had questioned the teacher via email or in person, and when I told him that I had attempted to do so but that it got me no farther, he was shocked. The next time I showed up to the Learning Center, Kudzai had found the nutrition teacher at QVCC, sat me down behind the desk, called her up, and put me on the phone with her. She answered my question without a second thought – not caring that I wasn’t her student, or even a student at QVCC anymore, only seeing a young adult who was frustrated and in danger of getting a bad grade for a concept she wasn’t taught. These types of community relationships aren’t uncommon at QVCC, which I suppose is appropriate, as it is a community college. The students befriend the teachers, and I often look at the computers in the Learning Center to see a gaggle of Engineering students helping each other with a challenging homework assignment. Sometimes, their teacher is with them, pointing them in the right direction and answering their questions, even though it’s not class time and his office hours are long over. Last semester, I got to work and had a test waiting for me – a Marvel trivia test assigned to all of the Learning Center tutors, written by none other than Kudzai, who promptly graded our tests. The Spanish teacher, Elkin Espitia-Loaiza, is another QV professor who regularly walks through just to chat with my boss, while talking to all of his students in Spanish. We have free snacks for students, a pirate frog as our mascot, and plastic aliens scattered throughout this room that has become the center of what I think QVCC stands for. It’s fun, and enriching, and inclusive. If a student is lonely, they just need to hangout in the Learning Center for a few days and they are soon befriended by the “regulars” and the tutors alike. In short, writing this is making me extremely sad that QVCC isn’t a school that I could spend my whole college career at. I miss the atmosphere, the teachers, and the students. I miss the class sizes, and the individual attention, and the dedication of almost every employee you meet. That’s not what I’ve experienced at UConn.
Obviously directly comparing UConn and QVCC would be unfair. It’s like comparing an apple to an actual ton of oranges – their size and shape and flavor are so different it’s not fair. But at the core of each school, I think it should be remembered that they’re both that – schools. And often I feel like people at UConn forget that if it weren’t for the students, there would be no school. UConn is known as a research school, and I’m proud to be a student at such a well known university doing such good, productive research. But I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss knowing my teachers, or having my teachers know me. My pants would catch on fire if I said I didn’t care that it’s been two semesters (and 8 classes) since one of my professors has picked up a white board marker and done anything but lecture off of powerpoint slides. My nose would be a mile long if I told you that I didn’t think the students who only show up for exams and skip every class (and read off of those Powerpoints in the comfort of their own beds) were way smarter than me – the sucker that still hikes through wind and rain and snow to get to every class, even though their grades rival mine. However, I know I am receiving a quality education in the intricacies of being a dietitian. I just can’t forget how my expertly crafted email asking questions about a study guide this semester was responded to with a quick, one line dismissal, even though it was sent a week before the exam, and even though I had attended every class. There are teachers at UConn who will go above and beyond for their students, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule. At UConn, I have often felt isolated and ignored, like a number being fed through a conveyer belt. They take my tuition and silence my voice in one fell swoop – especially since I’m a commuting student. As a commuter, my class schedule is inconveniently spread out throughout the week, ensuring that almost every minute of my day is spend sitting in class, walking to class, or driving to school, taking away time to work, work out, or even spend time with my family. At QV, the teachers understand that school is not our whole lives. The classes are bunched together, and at QV I’ve never seen a student who has to be on campus 5 days a week. This leaves time for jobs to support the cars needed to get to school, since everyone is a commuting student.
I suppose this sounds like I have picked sides, huh? I guess I am a little biased towards community colleges, because I like feeling like a person and not a number. I like being a voice that can be heard, who can petition to get a chemistry class put onto the schedule, instead of being just another body to help fund research. It isn’t a secret that 4 year universities are normal and accepted in society, and if a student wants a Bachelor’s degree (or more) they have to attend one sooner or later. And don’t get me wrong, I think that’s a good decision. I think a Bachelor’s, or Master’s, or Doctorate degree helps make people more productive, thoughtful, insightful members of society and higher education should be encouraged. I just don’t think that community colleges should be shunned and put down, like I have seen often – especially from students and professors at UConn. I think the value of community colleges should be highlighted, their teachers praised, and their students rewarded for making a smart educational decision, as well as a fiscally responsible one. If you, my reader, only take away one thing from this whole blog project, I hope it’s this – don’t judge, belittle, or underestimate those who have chosen a different path. In my experience, being “normal” is highly overrated, and often the road less traveled has a way cooler view.