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Making the Most

Working toward college degrees in high school gives students early advantage

From The Ichabod - Fall 2020

It is not uncommon for students to graduate with a high school diploma, Washburn University Institute of Technology certificate and Washburn University associate’s degree within a year of each other or sooner. Free and reduced-price tuition give students many advantages along the way when they choose this path.

D’Mya Valdivia, certificate ’16, aa ’18, enrolled at Washburn Tech while attending Shawnee Heights High School – a free option for Kansas high school students at public technical schools. She earned a certificate in early childhood education in 2016 then started working toward an associate’s degree and finished high school in 2017. She earned her associate of arts in human services in 2018 and is currently working toward bachelor degrees in both sociology and communication studies.

“My whole junior year I went to Washburn Tech in the morning and went back to high school in the afternoon,” Valdivia said. “It was fun to get off campus and do more hands-on work.”

Toby Meyer, certificate ’18, as ’18, graduated from Perry-Lecompton High School in 2018 and earned a Washburn Tech certificate in advance systems technology at the same time. Three months later he had his associate of science from Washburn in industrial technology. He’s now a junior studying engineering at Kansas State University. He said the specialized education at Washburn Tech has been the most beneficial.

“My entire time in high school and my entire time in college, I would say my professors at tech school were probably the best I've had,” Meyer said. “All of them were very receptive to questions. They were very laid back and treated us all like adults.”

Currently, 20 Tech certificate programs can transition into an associate’s degree offered at a lower cost by the School of Applied Studies. Students need not be in high school to begin the program and they can begin working toward their associate’s degree up to six years after earning a certificate. Mitch Higgs, ba ’94, assistant to the dean, School of Applied Studies, advises students as they navigate this program. She said having an associate’s degree is great for someone looking to stand out among applicants for high-demand technical jobs, and it’s a great start for those advancing their education to a bachelor’s degree and beyond.

“It gets them in the thick of college. It gets them on the campus,” she said. “They might take a communication class that teaches them how to communicate with their coworkers. They may take a psychology class that helps them understand why a coworker's behavior is like it is. It's a really great opportunity for the next step.”

Valdivia was not highly involved in high school but that changed when she started full-time at Washburn. She joined the Black Student Union as a freshman and became a LinC Bonner Scholar, peer educator and summer orientation counselor her sophomore year. Being a first-generation student who now understands how to navigate college, she’s happy to share her experience with new students. Her outgoing personality and these experiences are also shaping the career she wants to have.

“I love having conversations. I love helping people,” she said. “I've had multiple conversations with students about their wellness. Some students are going through home sickness. I realize how that really affects some students mentally; how they feel like they don't have the support system. Just realizing the realities those students go through, it really kind of gets to my heart.”

As secretary of the Black Student Union, Valdivia believes it’s important to embrace diversity at predominantly white colleges and reach out to the campus and community to be part of the group’s efforts. She wants her career to involve embracing diversity and listening to people.

Meyer is very math and science oriented. He said his certificate helps individuals work as maintenance technicians, fixing broken equipment in factories. The associate’s degree can lead to career advancements. The engineering degree puts someone in a role where they’re solving the problem of why the machine broke in the first place.

He sees three big advantages to the educational journey he is on. The first is the money he’s saved. The second is the experience and how it led to an internship with Topeka’s Mars Wrigley Confectionery production facility. The third is the advantage he has among some classmates.

“In engineering school, a lot of what they teach you is the theoretical side behind the things, but a lot of people haven't seen the real deal,” Meyer said. “Having that experience really helped me conceptualize and understand things.”
As Meyer and Valdivia work toward another graduation and more degrees, they are both pleased with how their higher education careers began.

“I feel like I've thrived and I'm making the most of my experience,” Valdivia said. “I think it’s real important when you go to college to just make the most of your time there.”

The Ichabod Winter 2021 issue

The Ichabod tells our story with features on alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends, along with the latest campus news. Read the 2021 winter edition online and look for it in mailboxes in January.

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