Like many transfer students, Violeta R. and Micah W. came to community college looking for new career paths. Violeta is a former massage therapist specializing in Spanish at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. Micah graduated in psychology from John Tyler Community College in Midlothian, Va., Who previously attended art school and held several minimum wage jobs. Both are expected to transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall, and they attribute the time spent at community college to deeply shaping their personal and professional journeys.
Violeta and Micah are the first participants in the Mellon Pathways program – a model partnership between the two community colleges, VCU and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The partnership offers an enriched transfer experience for students seeking four degrees in the arts and humanities. Pathways students are supported throughout their transfer journey with transparent program alignment between two- and four-year schools as well as peer mentors, expert transfer advisors, and access to VCU resources. They can also apply to be Mellon Research Fellows, to receive a stipend to fund a humanities research project of their choice. Violeta and Micah received the scholarship. As Mellon Fellows, transfer students dive deep into their fields of study, often interweaving their personal backgrounds with their professional interests.
Mellon Pathways students like Violeta and Micah give the program credit for helping them develop their career paths and interests. Violeta combined her studies of Spanish with her personal interest in accessible mental health resources; she created the LatinXMindRVA podcast to discuss mental health issues and resources for the Latinx community in Richmond, Virginia. For her research project, Micah mixed her experiences in therapy with an exploration of how communication and language are essential to self-knowledge.
Thanks to the structure and support offered by the pathways program, Violeta and Micah were able to enrich their studies by drawing on personal experiences that help motivate their educational paths and goals. They have gained more in-depth knowledge about their chosen fields of the humanities, the career paths they may want to take, and how they want to use their education to give back to others.
Violeta, for example, is bilingual English-Spanish. Due to her own experiences and what she learned in her research project, she decided to focus her work on those who speak mainly Spanish, like her mother.
Richmond has limited mental health resources for Spanish speakers, Violeta said, and these community members “need a counselor or psychologist who knows their stuff. [language and] culture so that they can feel more comfortable talking to them. She also hopes to someday sponsor scholarships for Latinx students, especially those like her who want to use a community college to find a new career goal.
Micah’s research project was inspired, in part, by his high school experiences with therapists who helped him understand that he struggled with a negative self-image and who, in his words, have it. helped “clear up the remaining brain fog”. The deep dive into the history of communication and professional talk therapy not only helped him gain a better understanding of his own experiences, but also gave him insight into his professional options. In particular, he says he now has more information on what earning a master’s degree in psychology might entail and he looks forward to using his next time at VCU to consider the possibility of earning a. higher diploma.
Through it all, his motivation for professional success lies with the staff: he wants to be successful in his career so that in the future he can help his brother to be successful and help others who have also had difficulties.
Both students express their gratitude to the Bridges Program for enriching their community college experience and helping them find and refine their career goals, support them on their way to four-year school and ultimately d ‘a bachelor’s degree and more fulfilling careers. Violeta appreciates how everyone in Reynolds’ pathway program supported her as she explored her interests and committed to using her education to give back to her community.
“I love that the Pathways program has been so supportive throughout this journey, and then I can give back to the community that same support,” she said. She added that as a student in her 30s, the welcoming and understanding environment of the community college has boosted her confidence as she prepares to become a college student.
Micah greatly appreciated John Tyler’s supportive community, as well as the way the community college environment helped him prepare for a four-year college. At John Tyler’s home he participated in the Black Student Alliance and looks forward to joining VCU’s Black Cultural Centers. Throughout his educational journey, he encountered a variety of school populations, ranging from attending predominantly black schools to one of the few black students in a predominantly white school. He enjoyed learning and experiencing the mix of cultures and ethnicities at John Tyler and looks forward to an even bigger melting pot at VCU.
Violeta and Micah’s career and educational paths did not begin in community college. And as they move on to earning their humanities degrees at VCU, the trips won’t end there either. But their time with Reynolds and John Tyler, and particularly as students of the Mellon Pathways program, was a transformative step, allowing them to find professional purpose and personal growth through the community college journey. .
Serena Truong graduated in digital journalism from Virginia Commonwealth University, and is currently working as a communications assistant in the Pathways program.