Community college provides opportunity to explore

Published 9:14 pm Saturday, November 21, 2015

As a college student, possessing some direction about one’s academic pursuits is usually a good thing. But there’s much to be said for exploring what interests you before locking yourself into a four-year degree path.  Community colleges are great at providing that opportunity.

While reading a story on the increasing costs of attending a public university in the state, I thought back to my academic wanderings while in college.

I went the community college route before heading off to Mississippi State University and never regretted that choice. Community college allowed me to explore what interested me — and what interested me changed significantly before I arrived at MSU (it also changed quite a bit once I got there).

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I officially started off as a biology major with the hopes of becoming a molecular biologist who would end world hunger. Big dreams, I know. After struggling through Tommy Clopton’s Chemistry I class, I knew world hunger would have to find another savior.

While I obviously didn’t become a molecular biologist, the fundamental understanding of how science works still serves me well today.

I then shifted my focus to the arts — I took classes in painting, art history, piano, sculpture. Those classes inspired in me a love of Walter Anderson, which in turn gave me a love of Mississippi’s Horn Island. I made annual week-long pilgrimages to the island, and it’s a tradition I hope to continue with my children once they’re old enough to haul a week’s worth of drinking water across the island’s sand.

My piano classes (I was horrible) gave me an appreciation of music that led to a love of the guitar, or anything with strings, really.

When I left East Central Community College, I had accumulated dozens of hours in a variety of subjects. None of them fit nicely with any degree program, however. So I didn’t graduate, I simply transferred.

Upon arriving in Starkville, an adviser demanded that I declare a major. So I went back to the sciences and told her I would pursue a degree in Wildlife Biology. I’ve had a love of animals and nature since a boy, so it seemed like a logical fit.

During my time in the wildlife sciences program, I learned how to identify different types of animal scat (poop), how to properly raise fish in a farm pond and how to tell the difference between varieties of trees based only on a broken twig. I also was exposed to the writings of Aldo Leopold, the founder of conservation ethics. His son, Bruce, was the head of MSU’s wildlife program, so reading his father’s work “A Sand County Almanac” was required. It remains one of my favorite books.

But alas, the wildlife program was not for me. A graduate level course in fish physiology proved to be my undoing. The only thing I remember from the class is that biologists use the plural “fishes” while the rest of us do not.

After exiting that program, I discovered that I had enough previous coursework to take a stab at being an English major, with a minor in philosophy and religion. So for a semester or two, I read English romantic verse and wrote papers on its significance in the modern world.

But soon enough, my interest faded. Are you sensing a pattern here?

So with one year left on a self-imposed deadline to graduate within a half-decade, I studied the university’s course book for a major that seemed interesting and would accept my scattershot course record. That’s how I ended up in journalism. I’m not ashamed to admit it was more of a happenstance than a plan.

A love of photography is what initially led me to newspapers, and I’ve made a career out of what at the time seemed like a random collection of college credits.

Thankfully, my parents gave me the freedom to explore what interested me. And, thankfully, I could string together enough part-time jobs to make ends meet while doing it. But I couldn’t have done it without community college. Had I gone straight to MSU, the pressure of mounting student debt would have no doubt pigeon-holed me into a degree that might have worked out and might have not. I certainly wouldn’t be the publisher of this newspaper without the opportunities that community college allowed.

Luke Horton is the publisher of The Daily Leader.