For the past two years, Rose Sexton has considered herself a member of two families: her actual family and her work family at Craven Community College (Craven CC). Now, it’s transitioning into one big family as her husband and two sons develop deeper bonds with the college.
Rose began her Craven CC journey right out of high school in 1989. She stayed for about a year before meeting her husband and moving to a different area. They returned in 1995, and Rose started back as a part-time student, taking one class each semester. She earned a diploma in Business Administration and assumed she was finished with her college experience, but that was not the case.
In 2018, she was hired as a part-time administrative assistant to the dean of enrollment management at Craven CC. At the same time, she began the pursuit of an associate degree in Medical Office Administration.
“The reason for the degree was so that I could get the job that I’m in now,” explained Rose. “My goal was to go full time at Craven in the position that I’m in now, and I love the position I’m in. That’s where I want to stay for a while.”
Rose was promoted to a full-time administrative assistant and switchboard operator last fall. She helps the dean of student services, answers the college’s main phone line and assists callers with their inquiries, and she couldn’t be happier.
“I’ve had jobs where I dreaded going to work,” she said. “The last job before this one, I cried going to work. And this one, it’s like, ‘Ooh! I get to go to work today.’ And the day goes by so fast. I love what I do, and I love helping students succeed.”
Just over 20 years after her Craven CC story began, Rose was finally able to celebrate all of her hard work in earning her degree during the college’s 53rd annual commencement ceremony on June 27. She noted that she’s had nothing but positive experiences with the college from 1989 until now.
Rose’s husband, Jason, may not have had a connection with the college as long, but he’s still reaped plenty of benefits from his experiences as a student. Jason has worked at Overhead Door Company for 27 years and is currently a garage door installer. He began taking classes at Craven CC in summer 2012 and graduated with an associate degree in Business Administration in May 2017.
Like his wife, he also thought he was done with college, but later discovered there were other plans in store. After Rose began working at the college, she convinced Jason to go after a degree in Electronics Engineering Technology. She got the idea one day while giving a tour of the college’s Advanced Manufacturing Center to high school students.
“She was looking at all the stuff in there and was like, ‘Jason would love the stuff in here,’ which I do,” said Jason. “I enjoy working with my hands and electricity and electronics. That’s my forte.”
Although he was already familiar with most of the subject matter due to his job and teaching himself as he went along, Jason has learned a lot from the program. He has gained a deeper understanding of electronics and feels more confident in his career.
“What I’ve learned is the intricacies of what I already know,” said Jason. “It’s taken a broad understanding of it and honed it down to specifics of why things work the way they do. It’s helped me understand in more detail what I have already experienced in my job. I really like the electronics program. It’s hands-on.”
He is now four classes away from completing his second degree and has already received two job offers, one from FRC East and another from a government contractor aboard Cherry Point, even before graduating. He is currently taking evening classes and said the dean of Career Programs, under which the Electronics Engineering Technology program falls, is looking into making a class specifically to accommodate the schedules of students like Jason who work full time.
Even for students looking to pursue a more advanced degree, Jason suggested starting at the community college to make sure they’re passionate about their chosen program instead of potentially squandering two years of tuition and time at a university. Fortunately, his oldest son, Eric, took that advice.
Eric ultimately wanted to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, but he decided to take advantage of the cost savings of the community college during the first two years. He also wanted to maximize his experience by participating in scholarship programs that would help him attend a university. After a college representative visited his high school, Eric made up his mind.
He joined the Scholars in Engineering and Science Program, or SEAS, which is a scholarship program for students interested in pursuing a STEM-based career. He also joined C-STEP (Carolina Student Transfer Excellence Program), a partnership program between Craven CC and UNC-Chapel Hill which allows Craven CC students to earn an associate degree and then transfer to UNC-Chapel Hill as a junior to earn a bachelor’s degree in their selected field.
“I utilized Craven as a stepping stone to get me where I wanted to be, and it was a very blessed stepping stone to say the least,” he said. “I learned a lot while I was here. I originally started out getting an Associate in Science because I wanted to pursue a medical degree. I took some classes here—biology, chemistry—wonderful professors, wonderful academia, but I realized it wasn’t for me.”
With help and encouragement from his advisors and teachers, Eric chose a different field of study. He admitted that changing his program was daunting, but he wants students to know that they should never feel stuck in a program that they don’t end up enjoying. He graduated alongside his dad in May 2017. Upon transferring to UNC-Chapel Hill, he changed his major to psychology and music, and he graduated last December with a degree in both.
At the beginning of January, Eric officially joined the Craven family by becoming an administrative assistant for the TRIO department. TRIO offers free services for Craven CC students who are either a first-generation college student (neither parent has a bachelor’s degree), meet financial guidelines or have a documented disability with the college.
“Two-thirds of the population qualify and don’t even know it,” said Eric. “We definitely have room for more.”
Students who meet any one of those requirements automatically qualify and can greatly benefit from TRIO’s support, which includes academic and financial advising, time and money management, college transfer assistance and mentoring in subjects such as organization, notetaking, studying and test taking. They also work closely with the college’s counseling department to offer counseling services.
“I love my job, and hours fly by because we have so much fun,” said Eric. “Great working environment, great team.”
Eric’s end goal is to be a criminal psychologist and work with individuals who suffer from psychopathy, sociopathy, bipolar disorder and OCD in the prison system, as well as within organizations such as the FBI and CIA. But for now, he is enjoying his current situation and encourages other students to not be afraid or ashamed to seek out support from the community college.
“It’s cheaper than a typical university, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad thing at all,” he explained. “Because of that, I graduated with very minimal debt, and I still have the same degree. I just took a different approach, and it was Craven that helped me get there.”
Eric also suggests that students look into programs such as SEAS and C-STEP, as well as other transfer programs that Craven CC offers in conjunction with partnering universities. He hopes other students will take advantage of the educational foundation that Craven CC offers.
“Craven was that cornerstone of my education,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I really didn’t understand the atmosphere of higher education, and Craven really helped me and introduced me to it. It prepared me for my journey at UNC, it prepared me for my journey working here, definitely getting in there and forming long-lasting relationships with faculty and staff that are still beneficial to me today—it’s wonderful and amazing. I can say nothing but positive things.”
Eric’s younger brother, Alex, is optimistic that his college experience will be just as rewarding. Alex just graduated New Bern Christian Academy and, thanks to Craven CC’s Career & College Promise program, he was able to take college classes while still in high school, allowing him to start college with a few credits out of the way. He plans to enroll full-time at Craven CC for the fall semester and will work toward his degree in the Mechanical Engineering program.
“I’m pretty sure it will help me further in the future once I’m more involved with it,” said Alex. “I’m just stepping my toes in there, and it’s been helping me.”
He is continuing to take college classes online until the campus reopens, and has already applied to become a member of the college’s Student Government Association. He also hopes to become a Student Ambassador and is applying to become a work study in his mom’s department, Student Services. If all goes as planned, he will sit up front at the desk in Barker Hall and assist visitors when he’s not in class. After graduating, Alex aspires to become a Navy SEAL and believes his college experience will help prepare him for that undertaking.
As for Rose, she is thrilled that her husband and sons have shared so closely in her academic and career journeys and have mapped out their own. She is proud to work among people who nurture and support her, and she can’t wait to see what the future has in store.
“We’re all family,” she said. “We all have each other’s backs, and we want to see each other and our students succeed. And seeing the resiliency of the college with everything that’s gone on the past two years, I know that I’m in the right place.”
(Are you a Craven Community College graduate? We want to hear your #CravenStory. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
This article was originally published in the New Bern Sun Journal on July 8, 2020.