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Dunphy/My Turn: A family affair

The shouts of triumph and relief still resonant in our house, two months after our daughter, Jess, anxiously tore open the envelope from the Elms College and its notoriously selective Accelerated Second Degree Nursing Program. “I got in. I got IN,” her words popping off the ceiling like champagne corks.

Wasn’t it just a few semesters earlier that she’d been happily enrolled at Greenfield Community College pursuing a degree in liberal arts, studying photography, history, English lit, and considering a career in marketing or journalism? Science she eschewed. High School chemistry had been a struggle. Math? Forget it.

Then, somewhere late in semester four was a stirring, a nascent fascination with medicine and the enigmatic workings of the human body. Maybe it was a desire to turn caring into care. Or play detective in the world of inexplicable and destructive cell behavior. But the road to nursing school is littered with hard science. Anatomy and physiology, biology, statistics, nutrition and (not again), chemistry. There was a temporary crisis: Curiosity versus confidence. Could liberal arts transition to the laboratory?

At GCC it can, with hard work and the support of professors and fellow students. Teachers’ clarity in the classroom, their availability for office hours and help sessions kept Jess from getting lost. Peer tutoring supplemented classroom instruction and gave her the chance to learn from students who had already been through the same course.

The college’s curriculum is challenging and the professors demanding. Word at four-year schools across the region is that good grades at GCC are hard-earned and credible. When admissions officers at the Elms saw Jess’s GPA nudging 4.0 in the sciences, they knew they had an attractive candidate.

Along with academics, GCC encourages community service. The strong town-gown link forged by President Bob Pura is an example for the student body and, for that matter, for every other community college in Massachusetts. Jess used her time as a member — and president — of Phi Theta Kappa to promote and engage the GCC chapter with youth organizations in Franklin County and coordinate a college fair at the YMCA. Three years on the GCC campus and she gained her academic footing and a career path.

But enough about the kid … GCC has also been a positive experience for the parents. Faced with seemingly indecipherable forms and concerns about college costs, we were able to call the GCC Financial Aid office. Questions about the FAFSA, about Pell Grants, Mass Grants, or payment schedules were all answered by a knowledgeable and, I must say, friendly group of professionals on the first floor in the core of the big new building. The Greenfield Community College Foundation has also played a key role in making higher education affordable for many through scholarships and program support.

College costs have increased, no question, but my sense is that the GCC trustees and administration explore every possible option before raising fees, always working to balance educational excellence with affordability. Accessibility is a hallmark of the college, as President Pura has so often and so eloquently explained to policy makers at the state and national level. His advocacy has brought merited attention and millions of dollars to campus.

As our daughter moves on to the Elms, I expect her transition will be smooth, given the solid foundation in science she gained at GCC. I’ve also noted that the school colors will be familiar. The Elms, too, has chosen white and that dark, beautiful shade of, well, call it GCC green.

If you would like to help support the mission of GCC, please consider making a tax-deductible gift to the GCC Foundation at www.gcc.mass.edu/give or mail your check, payable to GCC Foundation to 270 Main St., Greenfield, MA 01301

Paul Dunphy is a member of GCC Parent & Family Network. He lives in Williamsburg.

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