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The Wrong Type of College Experience!

What do you think of when you hear the words “the college experience?” For many people who were lucky enough to go, they probably think fun, and freedom. A few people may think about the work they had, and maybe a few people might have thought about their bad experiences there. In my case, my college years were botched before they even started right.

During my senior year in high school, I was terrified about going to college, though I knew I wanted to. It was always part of my educational plan. Both my parents went to college, and I believe that they have been successful with their professional lives.

After High School graduation, I took a few classes at Harrisburg Area Community College to get “my feet wet” with college level work. I started by taking one course the following semester after graduating from high school and three courses in the spring.

I knew I ultimately wanted to go to Shippensburg University. My parents went there and met there. My family went up and walked on campus when I was a young child. For three years (1992-1994) I attended a summer computer camp they held on campus that taught me how to use Turtle Graphic Logo Writer. Shippensburg was a familiar college. It was also a close college. I did not want to go someplace far away as I wanted to commute. I did not want to stay on campus away from my family in a dorm with some stranger.

There was one other complicating factor. Through OVR, my parents found out about the Commonwealth Technical Institute at the Hiram G. Andrews Center, which was a school for students with disabilities located in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Most of their majors were short programs that taught students to learn a trade like custodial work, cooking, watch repair, and a few academic majors such as bookkeeping, and a five-term computer major. With computers not being my strong suit, and soldering being required, choosing a bookkeeping major was a no-brainer. During my senior year of high school, it was suggested that I take an Accounting class. I had met my math class requirements, but I would have liked to take all the traditional major classes I could, instead of a bunch of study halls or nonacademic subjects. Accounting met my requirement of a math class. I couldn’t take the next Math class Trigonometry, due to needing Geometry (I have spatial ability problems,) which led me to having to take either a nonacademic class, a study hall, or a business class. I chose to take Accounting I which I liked. For this reason, I chose the bookkeeping major at Hiram. Hiram offered more than just classes. They also had a driver’s program, and an occupational therapy program, that could help meet different student needs. This included a chance to work on my eye therapy that I needed to have a chance to obtain a driver’s license. It also would give me a chance to stay in a dorm, though it would be difficult. At Hiram all services were contained in one building.

So, then I went to Hiram in the fall of 2000, where I spent three long trimesters learning bookkeeping. While I was there the occupational therapist helped me with my vision therapy, and other tactile activities. For the first few days I had a roommate who was noisy, which is a nightmare for a person who needs quiet conditions (sensory). He was also very inconsiderate. At Hiram, every two rooms shared adjoining bathrooms with showers. One day I was taking a shower, and my roommate brought in a female guest into our room. I found out when I came out of the shower wearing nothing but a towel wrapped around me! After that, I took the first opportunity I had to get a room to myself, which was much better. Living up there was hard, and I wanted to go home for the weekends. Trips back and forth for my parents every week weren’t feasible, so luckily for me I stumbled upon another older student who had a car who went home every weekend. He lived in Hanover, and was willing to drop me off at my house every weekend on his way back home. He became one of my two friends I met there.

After I obtained my Associates Degree from Hiram, I went back to HACC and became dually enrolled with both HACC and Shippensburg University. What I did was take as many transferable lower-level classes as I could before transferring as I still wasn’t ready to go to a full-size campus yet. HACC started as roughly the size of the Ames store it replaced when it moved out of business, and slowly got bigger over time. Like Hiram, everything was self-contained (other than the book store), but I got used to the changes, as they were slowly made. Like falling into bookkeeping, I also fell into my original major, Accounting at HACC, by virtue of having all the bookkeeping classes, and because of my love of numbers and number patterns. Most of the classes I took at HACC were the general classes that every student has to take regardless of their major. These classes included math, science, and history classes. I enjoyed the science classes I took at HACC.

College was a disaster from a social stand point since I had to completely start over with all new people. A lack of social skills also made it hard to get to know people. Prosopagnosia (face-blindness) didn’t help my cause. I picked the wrong major. I majored in business (bookkeeping, accounting, and then finance), but never really had an interest. I have always liked numbers, but I simply couldn’t acquire an interest in business. I did not like the “trampling” culture. I am not very competitive and that is exactly the skill you need to succeed in college business classes. However, I earned my BS in finance from Shippensburg University.

Unfortunately, I was interested in Elementary Education instead of business. During high school and college, I helped my mom in her elementary classroom. I helped grade papers, helped figure out grades, and even helped students with their math facts. I enjoyed this. From the earliest days on the long commutes to Shippensburg, I would think about how I wanted to teach. To reach the business building, I had to walk past SU’s elementary school, and longed to have been enrolled in their elementary education program.

Eventually, I did go back to Shippensburg and tried to get a certification in teaching. The dean at the school tried very hard to discourage me from going in this direction. It didn’t work. She did give me another option. I could get a certificate in teaching high school business classes. I tried getting this certification, but left once student teaching was the only class left. I could have done it if: I stayed enrolled at the university, and spent all day helping in the business classroom as well, but the workload would have been large, and I had frequent doctor appointments. The point was to get me to leave the program so that I wouldn’t take the class and fail. The school did give me the option to stay and try to finish my certification; I chose not to take it since it seemed like it would be too difficult and risky.

There is one final surprise. Remember that I wasn’t able to get that teaching certificate? I eventually did teach, and I currently am teaching. Instead of teaching in a regular school, I teach Religious Education to second grade children for my church. My dad helps me, though as the years have gone by, I have been doing more of the teaching than my dad, who mostly does the prep work. Teaching religious education has gone well for me, and I really enjoy it. (Note: In March, 2020, the pandemic started, and I have been on hiatus thus far, for the current school year; however, I will be returning to our class on Sunday!)

As one can gather, college was a challenge for me. I am glad that I went and that I hold several degrees. It was worth while in that way. I still would like to work with elementary students in a school, if this pandemic ever ends and I feel like I can do so safely, though I’m afraid I might not have the opportunity. Who knows what lies ahead for me!

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