Not Disappointed Anymore

Shanna Graduation

When I turned 18, I had a clear vision of how the next decade of my life would transpire: I’d get my bachelor’s degree by 22, my master’s degree by 24, and a dream job by 30. Maybe I’d toss a PhD in there for good measure (no big deal).

I used to think my 18-year-old self would be rather disappointed to know that I spent the last decade stuck in a monotonous existence of cubicle jobs and paycheck-to-paycheck living. She’d be truly angered, though, by the fact that I had become an ageist and a passive spectator in my own life. I pitied myself for not going to college, and resigned myself to a life of regret on the premise that I was too old to change anything.

But one day, I woke up for work – miserable, again – and decided I’d had enough of feeling like a victim. So I quit my job and enrolled at FCC. Two years later, as I reflect on both my graduation and the many years of college yet in front of me, I take stock on how many things have changed in my life as a result of this decision.

There are the obvious things, of course. I have a college degree and all the education and opportunity that comes with it. In two years, I will have another degree, more education, and even more opportunity. I am pursuing a field of study that I love. But there are intangible changes in me that share the same importance as my degree.

I’m no longer an ageist who discriminates against herself and limits what she dares to attempt. I’m inspired, brave, resolute, and optimistic for the future. I don’t worry about whether or not I will accomplish something; I simply make my plans and follow them.

And I have to thank FCC, and more importantly its faculty, for being such a profound catalyst for change in my life.

The “18-year-old me” is not disappointed anymore.

Shanna Hoopengardner (’14) will transfer to Colorado Mesa University this fall to pursue her love of mathematics.

One Student’s Guide to a Smooth Transfer

First Days

Over the last year, I’ve realized that I was limiting my ambition based on my age, my community college status, and so on. I started asking myself, “Where do you want to go, and what do you want?”

But then I thought about what made my time at FCC so enjoyable, and a large component of that was the small class sizes and the approachability of the faculty.

By getting to know the faculty, especially in the math department, I realized that I like the close-knit feel here and the good relationships and support. So a large student body, or a department that is less personal, was not for me. I wanted a school where I could develop relationships with the faculty and other majors, not where I became a face in a crowd.

In short, I realized that I have to find the school that matches what I need as a student.
As I’ve recently experienced, the transfer process can be quite daunting. I did everything right: I attended fairs, read online guides and tips; talked to friends, family, and faculty; and visited a few campuses. But there were times when I still felt overwhelmed by this process and unsure about my own decisions. With a decision as big as where to go next, who wouldn’t be a little bit anxious?

I’ve compiled a few tips to help those of you who find yourselves in a similar situation, or who expect to transfer in the next year. Here you go!

Tip One: Ask faculty members in your department for their advice. Maybe they know a school with a great program that would have otherwise gone unnoticed to you. Maybe they can give advice about their experiences. Take them up on it because every insight counts, especially perspectives from other people who’ve been through this same process.

Tip Two:
Don’t be fooled by prestige. What’s important is not the school itself – or a big name –but what a program and department offers for your major. Some important questions in this area: What are the internship/career placement rates? How many students move on to graduate school? How many of those students receive funding by their graduate schools? Also, consider the faculty within your major department or program. You want a place that has a good reputation for both the quality of education and the opportunities available to you.

Tip Three: Consider the structure of the school’s program. I’m very certain about what I want to do, and that’s math. I considered colleges with a low teacher to student ratio, but what matters more to me is being able to focus on math courses. You have to weigh what things matter to you more than others. I’ll pick a larger student to teacher ratio if it means that I have the elective freedom to focus on what interests me.

Tip Five: Cost matters, but don’t let it be the only factor. I don’t think you should rule out a school if the tuition is high, but it should be worth the money. Don’t pick an expensive school if it won’t be a good fit for you either academically, recreationally, or otherwise. On the flip side, if a more expensive school feels like the perfect fit for you, pursue that!

Tip Six: Get a preliminary evaluation of how credits will transfer. You spent time and money here. Why waste it if your credits don’t carry over?

Tip Seven: Don’t feel that you’re limited in your academic potential by starting out at a community college, even if you are a non-traditional student. Most schools have processes in place for transfer students. Be ambitious.

Tip Eight: Trust your intuition. If the school feels right to you, it probably is. Don’t try and rationalize a choice because you feel obligated. Other people may try and persuade you to apply to certain schools or programs. Take that into consideration, but make your own choice.

The Real Value of a Community College Education

I recently read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a study that attempts to assess the worth of a community college education on the basis of return on investment.

In short, this study suggests that the time spent and debt incurred at a two-year college is only worthwhile if a graduate earns a salary that is significantly more than that of someone with a high school diploma.

To a certain extent I appreciate the sensibility of this outlook. Money is one of the few tangible ways to measure the impact of a college education. And there is no denying that the prospect of earning more money is, for many, a big reason to pursue higher education.

I have several problems with this study though, both in its methodology and, more importantly, its implications for higher education.

First, I dislike the study’s methodology insofar that it only considers the salaries of new graduates. Jorge Klor de Alva, one of the study’s authors, said, “It is stunning that for 15 percent of the schools, graduates might have been better off if they hadn’t gone.” But this conclusion was drawn by comparing the salaries of high school graduates to the salaries of new college graduates.

A degree’s return on investment is better judged by a lifetime of earnings, not the immediate payout. New graduates are not likely to earn as much as they would after, say, twenty years. Experience, which cannot be taught in college, is the key to earning a more lucrative salary or position.

Secondly, the study also suggests that community colleges “should emphasize technical training in fields like health care, petrochemicals, and high-end manufacturing, maintaining close ties with local businesses … associate degrees focused on job and technical skills have greater market value.”

I think it’s a huge misstep to imply that community college is only worth attending if you want a job within two years. This suggests that a two-year school is not a place for acquiring knowledge, but for preparing for work.

What bothers me most of all is the message that people should pick majors on the basis of practicality and salary, not passion or interest. Our society needs teachers, artists, and musicians just as much as it needs doctors and lawyers. Another article from The New York Times titled “The Real Humanities Crisis” says it best: “Since work typically takes the largest part of our time, it should also be an important part of what gives our life meaning.”

It has been repeatedly suggested to me that I change my major from mathematics to something more specialized, like engineering, because it has a faster return on investment. But my choice of major has never been, and will never be, based on a price tag. I enjoy math for math’s sake; it’s the hidden language of the world. I love when complicated problems end with elegantly simple solutions. I love the feeling of wonder when I learn a new theorem or concept. I believe that studying math brings us closer to understanding our place in the universe and how interrelated everything truly is.

I spent the better part of my twenties making good money in jobs that were completely unfulfilling. The reason I went back to college was to find a career I enjoy and fulfill my potential. The last thing on my mind was salary. I picked my major because I love the study of math, and if this means I make less money in my lifetime, so be it.

The true value of higher education cannot be measured in dollars and cents. College affords people the opportunity to question the status quo, identify their true passions, and land a career that makes both themselves and society better for it.

Becoming the Agents of Our Success


One of my sister’s Facebook posts a few weeks ago really struck a chord with me. I’ll summarize it:

“Dear retail/fast food employees, I get it. You have a terrible job from which you bring home less than stellar pay. The hours suck and you’re probably not treated that well. However, being sarcastic, gruff, or downright sullen to someone spending their (very) hard-earned money in your store…well, it’s just not worth it … Also, if it’s really THAT BAD, you CAN change it.”

I encounter so many people who content themselves with being mediocre and miserable, but why? I think the answer lies in a lack of ownership.

We create a self-fulfilling prophecy when we decide that our efforts don’t matter. By rationalizing underachievement, we limit our potential. This mindset creates a web of toxicity that only scaffolds the status quo of counter-productivity.

When did we decide to reserve our best efforts for when it “really matters” or is most convenient? Shouldn’t our best efforts always matter?

We hear stories each day of people overcoming limitations and impossible odds – it’s the stuff of cinematic blockbusters that inspires us to believe that all people are capable of transformation.

But the idea too often ends there – as an idea. Too many of us don’t put that inspiration into practice in our own lives. We choose (emphasis on the word choose) to believe that bettering ourselves is either impossible or not worth our efforts. Rare is the person who takes ownership of his/her own life and success.

This applies to college too, where some students seem to short-change themselves of an education. In one class, I overheard a student dismiss a poor assignment grade on the grounds that “this is only the 13th grade anyway.” In another class, a student said he’d be “perfectly happy with a C” since the teacher “was so boring.”

It’s easy to subscribe to the misguided belief that professors are solely responsible for making sure students understand material and succeed in class. Students must also take ownership of their education and become responsible for their own success.

That means setting priorities, managing time, visiting professors during office hours, and exceeding the minimum requirements that translate to a “C” grade.

We mar the reputation of community college by blaming it for our own lack of motivation and effort.

In life, I believe that you get out what you put in. College is a rare opportunity that passes quickly. Why would you squander that by giving anything less than your best? Isn’t that true for everything in life?

I think Abraham Lincoln said it best: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”

One Student Puts Her Foot Down on Community College Stigma

There is an annoying stigma that community colleges are merely a diet version of higher education institutions, catering to the less talented and motivated. As I can personally attest, this could not be further from the truth.

But I had absolutely no interest in enrolling at FCC at first. I was actually quite embarrassed about it. I bought into the stigma.

Where does this misguided belief stem from? I could make a case of blaming TV and the media, sure. The “Big Bang Theory” is one of my favorite shows, but it frequently paints community colleges in a poor light. I think this stigma goes much deeper than that. For me, I developed this opinion in high school.

Many of my fellow students enrolled at FCC after graduation, but they were typically people who I assumed to be underachievers. I had friends who took some FCC courses during high school in order to earn college credit, but they all went on to more selective four-year universities.

I made the association that a selective school is a better school. If a community college will take anyone, then this openness must reflect lower standards. I concluded that community college was on the same level as high school and not worthy as a place for higher education.

So when I decided to pursue my college education at the age of 28, I carried that view with me. I entertained expensive schools with inconvenient campus locations and worse accreditation simply because they were four-year schools. I wanted to be able to say, “I went to Such-and-Such University.” I felt too smart and motivated to resign myself to community college, and when my mother (in her infinite wisdom as usual) suggested I enroll at FCC, I felt nothing but frustrated disappointment.

Fortunately, I listened to my mother (as more of us should do!) and discovered that FCC provides a high-quality education, full of opportunities, without the high tuition rates and selective admissions we mistakenly assume must accompany it.

I am now eternally grateful to FCC for providing me with a rigorous, quality education that has afforded me numerous opportunities outside the classroom. I’ve been part of several clubs and research projects. I even had a chance to speak at an Honors conference. There is no end to the number of good things I can say about this school.

But it still took me the better part of a year to not feel a twinge of embarrassment when answering the question, “Where are you going to school?” I always had a response prepared explaining that I was just going to FCC to save money, and that I would transfer after two years. I wanted people to know I was smart, and I knew that many people still carried the same stigma I once did.

It’s not easy to cast away shame, even if you know it’s unwarranted. Facebook gives me constant reminders of the successes of my friends. I grappled with a sense of wasted potential for not enrolling in college sooner. I didn’t even update my social media accounts to reflect my FCC education until this past summer. I never put my foot down and proudly stood up for FCC.

This blog is me putting my foot down. How else can we dispel a stigma without owning up to our own part in it? It is the faculty, curriculum, and opportunities that determine the quality of a school, not its price-tag or name.

I’m proud to be a student at FCC.

Shanna Hoopengardner is a member of FCC’s Honors College, Phi Theta Kappa, and the Math and Engineering Club. Her passions include math, her dogs, and the Denver Broncos.