Community College to Graduate School in Higher Education

Rachelle Walker, Graduate Student
Boston University, Boston, MA

When I recall my undergraduate experience, I think about how surprised people where when I ended up attending a community college. I remember hearing about how I was “not supposed to be there” or that I was “too good for community college” when in fact I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I was lost and clueless and needed a comfortable setting to find myself.

On my first day of college I went to visit the Director of Student Activities. She was someone I had known from attending the local YMCA. She assured me that I was going to make the most of my experience. When I think of how I got ‘tapped’ into higher education she is the first person who comes to mind. She was a student affairs master and mentor. She was the transfer counselor we did not have on campus, my mental health counselor and a role model. She did everything. I had to fight my way into her office as she was always helping other students but I did so with joy.

She pushed me to make the most of my college experience. Though I was involved in high school, I felt insecure being in college and I was not sure how to take advantage of the opportunities that were around me. She got me involved in our student government, nominated me for the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence, the greatest educational distinction I have ever received, and helped me explore all of the opportunities that were right in front of me. Most importantly, she showed me how much I can achieve as a woman of color. From her I learned that the only thing that limits my success is me.

After graduating with an Associates degree, I transferred to a new school and searched for a new mentor but never found one. As a first-generation student of color, I missed out on some of the unique experiences my institution provided because I was a transfer student and I did not know how to access those choices. I struggled to get connected to campus.

One of the last and most profound memories I have is going to my academic advisor to get clearance for graduation. I was so excited at the thought of graduating yet my advisor did not even know who I was. This person was the chair of the department of my major, and I had taken three courses with them; one of which was my senior seminar. I felt so insignificant at the institution that I had a lot of pride in. How could this be?

What ‘tapped’ me into higher education is understanding and living the experiences of students who also feel like me on college campuses. On the outside it looked like I had everything as a high achieving student but in fact, I needed a lot of support as an emotionally and socially underdeveloped young woman. My mentor at the community college made an investment in me without initially knowing that and it made a world of difference. I empathize with students who feel disconnected from their campus but I also know how great it feels to be supported.

Slowly but surely as graduation approached I realized that when I grew up all I really wanted to be was my mentor. From the day we met she regarded me as her “mini-me” and it still rings true today. Now she works in student conduct and as my career progresses I am looking to do the same. Rather than being ‘tapped’ I like to think of my experiences as a series of small nudges towards the realization of my career aspirations because it took me a while to get here.

The most important thing I learned from my coursework in Black Studies was the concept of using our education, experience and skills to uplift our community. This is what drives my work as a student affairs professional and I hope that in a few years I will be ‘tapping’ other students into higher education.