Missoula College Helps Us All Succeed

Sarah Smith
I grew up in a broken home. The oldest of eight children living with a single mother, I was not well behaved. I can vividly recall my teachers’ refrain at conference time: “She is so smart – she just doesn’t try.” I did not feel smart at all. In high school that translated to: I do not care, and I am going to do what I want to do. This attitude did not serve me well.

At the age of 16, when most young ladies are worried about prom and going to the mall, I was preparing for my first child. My options for a successful and fulfilling life seemed narrow.

Once my child was born, however, I found a new motivation. I was responsible for another human being. I felt challenged and determined. I went full steam ahead toward graduation, completing only a semester behind my class.

Despite my achievement, I felt directionless after high school. I did what made sense at the time: I got married. I had two more children in short succession. My husband was just as overwhelmed by life as I was, and our marriage quickly fell apart. Now 23, alone, and a mother of three, my options became even bleaker.

I was determined to pick myself. I got a job as a waitress and quickly discovered that I am very capable. I did well at this little greasy spoon and might have become a “lifer” had the store not closed. I was immediately hired as the receptionist at a small car lot. I had no experience but for the first time I was confident in my ability to be successful.

Within six months I had worked myself up to office manager. I learned I was more than just capable: I was smart. As the years went on I found more and more value in myself. So much, in fact, that I felt my time and energy would be better spent perusing my dreams, rather than an employer’s. I quit my job and started my own business.

It did not take me long to realize I did not have the skill set to make my business successful. I started exploring options to go back to school and found Missoula College’s business management – entrepreneurship program. This was exactly what I needed: the right coursework, very little time commitment, and minimal debt obligations. With the welcoming environment and culture of Missoula College, I did not feel intimidated about once again becoming a student.

I am currently finishing my fifth semester. I will graduate in May with high honors, earning two associate degrees and a certificate in business management.  I have served this year as president of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, as an ASUM senator (only the second Missoula College student to serve), and as the Missoula College student representative. I will attend the UM mountain campus this fall as I set out to obtain my masters in communication.

My children are watching me find success. I am changing the course of their lives by pursuing my education. They speak of their future, more specifically their education, in terms of “when” rather than “if.” That has been the most rewarding part of this experience.

I am not the only success story coming out of Missoula College. There are extraordinary students graduating from each one of their programs every year. Some continue their education, some set out on successful careers, and all are influencing the next generation of successful Montanans.

When you think about Missoula College, think about me and how the college helped me succeed. Think about the thousands of other students who are working hard to make better lives for themselves. Make the choice to support the new college building.

 -- Sarah Smith