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Student Stories

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Amy Simpkins: I entered Clayton State for the first time as an undergrad in 2000. Twenty years later, when I began looking into graduate programs, the small class sizes and collaborative community I remembered from my undergraduate semesters at Clayton State called me back. On my first day of classes in Spring 2020, I entered the classroom timidly and sat alone at a table. Immediately, three other members of the cohort introduced themselves and invited me to join them. Their warmth and compassion for this awkward newbie confirmed for me that Clayton State was the perfect choice. My professors that first semester were encouraging and supportive, and I felt immediately like a welcomed and valued member of the community. That sense of belonging has continued from day one to now, and I am so grateful to have found such a supportive, encouraging, and challenging program to prepare me for teaching in my very own classroom. Now, I feel more confident. I am able to deliver presentations without staring at a script. I can speak freely and passionately about education and my personal philosophy because of the support and encouragement I have received at Clayton State. 
 
CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

AS: After 15 years working as Program Director and Instructor for one of the world's leading outdoor education organizations, I chose to pursue a long-held goal of obtaining my master’s degree and entering the teaching field. I began my first semester of the MAT program in January 2020 and had two and a half months of classes in-person. One day, there was a palpable shift in the atmosphere. The news of the coronavirus was spreading across the nation. Investments were tanking, people on campus were carrying hand sanitizer and disinfecting surfaces everywhere they went. People were agitated and anxious. The next week in-person classes were canceled, and we transitioned to online classes. I struggled with the transition. I had spent 15 years on my feet, delivering high-impact, challenging programs to in-person clients in an outdoor setting. Suddenly, I was spending 12-14 hours a day in front of a computer screen, conducting my first semester of student teaching online, never having met my students or my mentor in-person. I was also still responsible for designing and delivering programs for clients, just now online.

Then, in the fall, my grandmother, who was in a memory care facility began to decline. I had not been able to see her since March when the facility closed to visitors. When they began to allow visitors, we had to sit in the parking lot under a tent, separated from my grandmother by thick plastic sheet. She could not see or hear me. In October, as I was preparing a presentation for one of my classes with a group of classmates, I received a call that I should go to my grandmother. The staff at the facility let us in, and my family was able to spend one last day with her. She passed away the next day.

My group helped me through the challenging time, rearranging our work schedule to make sure I could be with my family and we could still meet our assignment deadline. I did not tell my professors about this event until a lesson debrief with one of my professors. She asked if her comments made me sad, and I could not stop the tears as I explained what I was experiencing.

This has been a challenging year for all of us. We have had to endure distance and separation and personal struggles of all kinds. When I was one month away from having to resign from my position and give up the security of my job and paycheck for 6 months to complete my student teaching, I found out I was selected to receive a scholarship from the Clayton State University Retiree's Association. The generosity of this campus-affiliated organization helped me off-set the cost of tuition at a very difficult time. When I needed support, faculty members and classmates have been there to support me. When I have been able to offer support, I have done so. The support of my family and the community at Clayton State is what has helped me overcome the challenges I faced this year. 
 
CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

AS: After graduation, I hope to find employment with a school in which I can implement the skills I have been taught at Clayton State. I want to find a place where students and student learning come first, where the community is invited and involved in the school. I want to help young people learn to think critically so that they can make choices that will lead to a stronger community. I love literature and composition, and I hope I can spark an interest in students in these topics, but that is a secondary objective. My primary objective is to provide a space where my students' strengths and interests can be explored and where their areas of growth can be challenged and developed.  
 
CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

AS: If you need support, ask for it. If you can offer support, do. Be open to feedback. I see it as a gift. If someone cares about my development enough to offer me the benefit of their own experience and expertise, that is a gift they are giving to me. It is up to me, then, to do with that gift as I see fit. Maybe it will work for me, maybe it won't, but I won't know until I try. And keep a journal or some record of your time chasing your dream. It will go by quickly, and in the midst of the pursuit, it can be difficult to remain fully present. Recording your experience will help you process it and can help you tell your story later. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State. 

Christopher B. EdwardsMy college journey started in 1996 as a Georgia Tech Football player. Due to many poor choices, I was dropped from Georgia Tech my senior year with a 1.6 GPA. I attended four schools from Spring 2005 to Spring 2010, but never made any progress because of my work and family demands. In 2010 I practically gave up on earning a college degree. Fortunately, my wife encouraged me to try it again in 2013. I enrolled at Georgia Perimeter College Fall 2013 to pursue an associate degree in business administration. I graduated Spring 2016 with honors. Next, I transitioned to Georgia State University Fall 2016 and graduated Summa Cum Laude in Business Administration Spring 2019. I started Clayton State’s MBA program Fall 2019. 

My experience at Clayton State has been wonderful. It has been my best college experience so far. I like Clayton State so much I decided to come back this fall to complete the Master of Strategic Leadership program also. I had a great experience as graduate assistant also. I worked with the professors at the Center for Research on Economic Sustainability. I was chosen as for the March student spotlight in Graduate Programs newsletter and chosen as the graduate speaker for our upcoming commencement. I cannot say enough about my time at Clayton State. It has truly been an awesome experience and I am looking forward to coming back in the fall.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

CEI faced several challenges during my time at Clayton State. During Spring 2020 I was working 50 per week and taking 4 classes. During the second session my sister in-law and grandfather died during the same week. This was a very difficult time for me and my wife. We made a two-hour drive to our hometown every day for two weeks. I overcame this challenge by holding on to my faith in God and lot of support from my wife, children, family, and professors. 

Fall 2020 was also challenging. I was taking three classes. I was promoted in July assistant plant manager. This promotion increased my responsibilities, and our sales demands were 25% higher than forecasted. I also coached middle school football and working as a research assistant for CREST. During the second session I got sick and eventually was diagnosed with a blood clot in my lung. It took two weeks for me to heal. My professors were very supportive during this period. Because of their support I was able to keep up and finish all classes with A’s.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

CEAfter graduation I plan to continue growing in my role of assistant plant manager with Hanson Aggregates. I also plan to apply for part-time college teaching positions. This is one of the main reasons I decided to pursue an MBA. I am also coming back to Clayton State this fall to complete the Master of Strategic Leadership Development.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

CEI would advise other students continue working hard, hold on to their faith when things get tough and surround themselves with a positive and encouraging support system.   

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Roosevon LeeMy academic journey at Clayton State has definitely been an amazing experience. This is not to say that there were not challenges along the way, of course. There were times that I honestly was scared half to death because of the huge workload and typical challenges that chemistry tends to bring. However, what has made it so memorable and enjoyable are the lovely professors that have been given to me. I learned something from each and every last one of them that I can take with me as I continue my career journey. I feel like I can confidently say that I am equipped with enough knowledge and practical experience to carry on in both my career and hopefully graduate school.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

RLCompleting my degree was not always a walk in the park. Chemistry has its fair share of challenges. As a student who was also on the dual degree track, I had to also take additional courses outside of the conventional chemistry degree track to get into Georgia Tech so that I could get a dual degree in chemistry and chemical engineering (not to mention that I had also added on a physics minor to that as well). Fortunately, I was accepted into Georgia Tech, and I was so excited!

I completed one semester at Georgia Tech just to find out that I would soon have to pay out of pocket for the remaining year and a half, since my hope scholarship was running out. Though Georgia Tech was my dream school, and I had been planning for so long to get in, I had to make the toughest decision of my life, and that was to choose rather I should just stay and suffer financially or just continue my degree at Clayton State. And, of course, I chose the latter decision, and I do not regret it! Clayton State has been amazing to me.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

RLAfter graduation, I hope to begin working in my field starting out as either a chemist or an Associate Scientist at a very respectable company that will allow me to grow and to eventually go back to get my master’s degree in chemical engineering so that I can expand my horizons and have more career options.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

RLTo other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree, I would say to them to never give up on themselves. Life will try to throw challenges at you that may seem too intimidating to get past, and it may sometimes appear as if it is the end of the world.

But it is not the end! It is just the beginning, and anything is possible. Be the person the kid version of yourself would be proud of. And never be afraid to ask for help whenever you don't understand something. That is what the professors are there for! Above all, believe that you can obtain that wonderful life you are working so hard to achieve. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

André LagoueyteThis is my third attempt at the undergraduate level, and I will be earning my second bachelor’s degree. At this point in my life, I know how I learn, and I love academia. I have found the most effective way to learn is to disregard grades altogether. Without the stress of grades, the material becomes invitingly fascinating to me and I pore into the math and science with joy. As a result, I retain the information better, I may use it more effectively and broadly, and high marks are simply a side effect.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

AL: I am blessed to have the support of my wife and family. My Tío Jean-Pierre allowed me to live at his house while I attended school at the beginning before I moved in with my wife. I worked many shifts at restaurants and learned how to properly use credit cards to help pay my way through. Now, I am in a much better position financially and emotionally than when I first arrived at Clayton State.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

AL: I hope to find work at a large company that is willing to assist me in graduate school. Earning a Master's in chemistry or a Ph.D. in computational chemistry will open many doors in the direction I want. Luckily, everything is a chemical, so owning a chemistry degree will allow me to choose from many fields, ideally to save the environment or work on computers.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

AL: Anyone can earn a degree if you are patient enough. Things are much easier when working with dedicated classmates. Also, keep an open line of communication with your professor. CSU professors are particularly welcoming to indulge your questions and curiosities. This may be your only opportunity to deeply discuss your interests with a bonafide expert. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Delia Dawn Stell: My academic journey at Clayton State began at orientation in Fall 2016, when I took dual enrollment classes at the Henry County campus. I was a shy kid, and before dual enrollment, I was homeschooled, and I took online classes, so I didn’t have much experience in large group settings. After a couple of weeks, I realized that I enjoyed being in that environment, and I also liked talking with my professors. After I graduated high school, I decided to go to a local college near my family. I have one younger sibling, and she is about nine years younger than me, and since it is just us two, I did not want to be far away from her.

My first year was interesting. I had started my first semester as a psychology major and my second as a biology major. What pushed me to switch majors was my want to be a physical therapist, and biology fulfilled more of the prerequisites. I see it as one of the best decisions I have made because I love my STEM community and faculty. As the years continued, I made lifelong friendships and great connections with some of my professors, took fascinating classes, and won awards. The first award I won was the CRC Press Chemistry Achievement Award, and the second was the O.C. Lam III Award for Excellence in the Biological Sciences. This fall, I was able to graduate a semester early and was a 2020 quarantine graduate. I am proud that I could reach my goal despite the pandemic, and I cannot wait to make my mark on the world.

Besides my degree, the other best thing that has happened in my academic journey would be meeting my husband. We met at a collegiate ministry event, but we were not close until we became coworkers at the Center for Academic Success. Ultimately, I am thankful for my journey at CSU, and I believe that the things that I have experienced and done have shaped me into the person I am today. Ever since I was young, I have always been a curious soul and I love to learn new things and CSU has been a wonderful place for me to learn much about the world and about people.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

DSIn my collegiate career, I do not believe that I had any significant challenges. I am thankful that the extent of my hardships would be during my last semester when I was worried that my 4.0 GPA would be messed up with a B or two. I was worried up to the last minute and was thankful when I received A’s in all of my courses. I know that I am very fortunate, it may be that I have forgotten some of the challenges I have faced because I try to focus on things to come and not on things that have passed.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

DSSince graduating in Fall 2020, I have gotten married, and I have been accepted into Georgia State University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. In three years, I will be Dr. Stell and hopefully working in an outpatient facility in my community. In the distant future, I hope to go back to school to get my Ph.D., which would allow me to teach in a DPT program and start a family with my husband.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

DSMy advice would be to take advantage of every opportunity and live through every moment! Whether it be a difficult class, a disorganized professor, or disagreeable group mates, each moment can be an opportunity for growth. College was where I strengthened my work ethic, got out of my shell, and learned how to network with others and some of those happened in times where I least expected it. And so, as a reminder, do not forget to persevere because as each day end, you are closer to obtaining your goal. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Lela Evon Samantha Gray: I entered college reluctantly. It was an obligatory next step after high school. However, I wasn't dreading it either. I am the third of four children and I knew, if I graduated college, I'd be the first. I wanted to go the University of Georgia, but my family couldn’t afford it. Clayton State was my safe option: 10 minutes from home and reasonably priced.

I was blessed to receive enough scholarship money to cover tuition—but it only covered tuition. To avoid taking out loans, I didn't move on campus and got a job to pay for books and other expenses. It was hard, at first. I felt like I was missing out on the ""true"" college experience—all I did was work and study. I was isolated: in a constant state of regret and anxiety. There had to be more.

My first semester of college ended. In the last week of class, two of my professor’s emailed me saying they enjoyed having me in their classes. One even invited me to participate in a study abroad program hosted by Clayton State. Their encouragement made me realize two things: (1) Clayton State is far better than the box I’d put it in and (2) my college experience depended on the choices I made.

Everything changed after that. I got a job on campus which helped me meet people and make friends. I engaged with the material I learned in class rather than passively memorizing information. I got involved in on-campus activities, and I even won an award in an on-campus film festival.

I gained passion and a desire to dream beyond boundaries I’d drawn. I thought college was going to be a forgettable experience: a necessary step to get a job. I didn’t realize that I needed Clayton State to become the person I am today—passionate about writing, excited about education, and pursuing my dreams.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

LG: I worked all through school. I always had two jobs: my on-campus job at the Writers’ Studio and another off-campus job, typically at a restaurant or attraction. My third year, I wanted to take a volunteer trip abroad, but I wasn’t making enough money to cover the costs. So, I got another job. I was a full-time student working three jobs. It was difficult. I often worked until 12 AM, studied or finished homework once I got home, then slept for five hours or less before my 10 AM class. My social life suffered, I drank way too much coffee and, eventually, I burned out.

I was on the way to class, reciting upcoming deadlines and projects I needed to finish when I burst into tears. I didn’t understand what I was experiencing, but I knew it didn’t feel good. Later, I realized I’d been burying stress for months. I took a couple days off from school and work to regenerate.

After that, I decided to live life one day at a time. I worsened my stress by worrying about the future instead of focusing on the present. If I wanted to make it through the semester and go on the trip abroad, I had to persevere. But I had to do so with wisdom and reason. Plan, yes, but if I could accomplish little goals each day, I would eventually arrive at my ultimate goal (nearly) stress free.

I made enough money to go on the trip to Ireland, and I finished the semester with all A’s.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

LG: I would love to begin a career as a freelancer writing for various journals, magazines, and whatever else I can find. My dream career, however, is to become a screenwriter. Eventually, I would like to obtain an M.F.A. in screenwriting and become a script consultant.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

LG: Stay focused! There will be times when it feels like all the work you’re doing isn’t worth it, but trust me, it is. Always work to your full potential—you never know who’s watching.

Take advantage of the opportunities available to you now (especially free or low-cost opportunities); they will be invaluable to you after graduation. Live in each moment: feel stress; relish in joy; appreciate mediocrity; and marvel at the extraordinary. The best way to remember things is not by taking pictures but by being present.

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Lee Ann ClineI have greatly enjoyed my academic journey at Clayton State.  I have made new friends and colleagues that have helped me along the way, but most important I was able to attend classes online while working full time. I received my MLIS at Valdosta State in 2006 while being a single mother of two and became the cataloging librarian at Dalton State shortly after that. I then had the opportunity to supervise with the DSC Archives.

The Master of Archival Studies program at Clayton State seemed like a great place to learn what I needed to know about archives. The program is set up in a way that I was able to achieve my goal of learning the skills and obtaining the knowledge to continue my work at the Dalton State College Archives and Special Collections. The online program was the only way I could have achieved this degree. My oldest daughter, Victoria Cline, is also graduating this year.  We have been able to go through the program together, even though we are on opposite sides of the country. I am in North Georgia and she is in California, and my youngest daughter, Anna Cline, is receiving her Master of Music Education this spring at Jacksonville State in Alabama.

Victoria ClineWhat makes my academic journey unique is being able to go through the program with my mom, Lee Cline. This was a wonderful experience being able to share this journey with her. It gave an additional level of support and gave me someone I already knew in the program.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

LCSome challenges I have faced to complete my degree have been working full time, being a caregiver to my mother, and keeping up with the classwork. The only way I overcame these is by having a very supportive group of co-workers and a very understanding Library Director, very understand and encouraging instructors that were willing to work with me with deadlines when life happened.

Then on top of that we all have had the challenge of Covid-19. I am thankful our MAS program was already online, but working at Dalton State Library, we had to develop ways to meet our students research needs quickly and then we also had the challenge of have pipes break in Roberts Library and being closed except for curb-side service since November of 2020.  Dealing with all of that impacted my state of mind and time to work on classwork. But with the support of my instructors, classmates, and co-workers I have made it!

VCA lot of personal stuff has happened throughout my degree. I found staying focused on school to be helpful with dealing with what happened. It was a constant I could count on. My professors were amazing and worked with me during the rough times. I hope to find a job in my degree field close to where I live.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

LCI hope to become a Certified Archivist and continue my work at the Dalton State College Archives and Special Collections. I also would like to expand my volunteer work with the Whitfield-Murray Historical Society.

VCI hope to find a job in my degree field close to where I live.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

LCYou are never toold to learn and to stick with it.  Life happens and things occur that make you feel that you cannot achieve your goals, but you can.  Take advantage of the resources the college has, accept the support of friends, family, and others when you can.  Just stick with it and you can accomplish that dream, it just may take a little longer than planned.

VCDon't be afraid to reach out to your professors. Having that open line of communication helps relieve a lot of stress and worries. They understand life happens and will work with you if something happens. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Crystal Johns: I began my education at Clayton State University in 2016 and graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. As an older student, I was 45, many thought I was crazy to go back to school and would regret it. I can unequivocally say that I do not. I feel more confident in my life and career. Maybe I'll be paying off student loans until I die, but I can say that I accomplished something in my life that no one can take away.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

CJ: Obviously, Covid-19 threw everyone for a loop. However, since I was already an online student, it didn't really affect me too much as far as my classes went. Clayton has done nothing but make me feel like I can accomplish anything I set out to do. They are encouraging, helpful, and a great cheerleader! I have nothing but great things to say about the staff and faculty who have been so warm and welcoming.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

CJ: I plan to teach English Literature at the high school level this fall. Currently I teach Culinary Arts, but my passion in literature. I hope to teach at the collegiate level, if not full-time, at least part-time.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

CJ: Never give up, never think that you can't accomplish your goals. I will be 50 at the end of this year, and as someone once said to me, you can be 50 with a degree or you can be 50 without a degree, either way, you'll still be 50. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Kadian NunesI started Clayton State in the Bridge Program which allowed me to enter the University contingent on me meeting certain conditions. My academic journey was full of me making the most out of any opportunity given to me such as when it came time to be creative for an assignment or using group projects to build long-lasting relationships with people.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

KN: The one challenge I faced while trying to obtain my degree was no different than any other college student, and that's staying focus. I'm not one to shy away from going out and hanging a good time but I understand quickly that school was my top priority and there would be more fun times later on down the road.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

KN: I hope to enter into my field as a Public Relations Specialist for a sports team or industry artist.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

KN: My advice would be to find a group of like-minded people who want to accomplish the same goal while also holding you accountable.  I would also say don't be afraid to find a mentor someone who can guide you on your new journey. 

Clayton State University: Tell us about your academic journey at Clayton State.

Kehinde KurforijiMy academic journey was smooth. Clayton State University is a school that is very thorough and has all resources that one needs to achieve academic success.

CSU: Did you face any challenges in trying to complete your degree?

KK: Many challenges on the way. Examples are cost, study hard to make 75% pass marks in all exams, high volume of work to do, burnout, and stress.

CSU: What do you hope to do after graduation?

KK: To work, take care of people, give back to the community, and plan to have a good life.

CSU: What advice would you give other Clayton State students who are working toward accomplishing their dream of obtaining their degree?

KK: To focus on their studies and work hard.