The Family Who Attends CGTC Together, Stays Together
Friday, August 11th, 2017
A move to Warner Robins from Belgium for the Hicks family started an educational journey few can replicate; since 2013 every member but “dad” has taken courses at Central Georgia Technical College.
Mom, Christina, daughter, Amber, and sons, Christian and Johnathan are close, as military families tend to be, but have not viewed their avant-garde concept of nuclear-enrollment as exclusive or a means to extend their bond, rather as a convenient opportunity.
The eldest, Amber, got it all started in what was the dual enrollment program, prior to its rebranding by the state into Move On When Ready. When the family met with guidance counselors at Houston County High School, they found out that not all of Amber’s math credits transferred from her international school. Someone then told them that dual enrollment might allow her to recover the credits. It would, and Amber enrolled, making the roughly five-minute trek to the college in HOCO’s backyard.
“Getting the high school credit this way was worth it. If you start your junior year as many do, you already can get a big chunk of the college credit out of the way too. So when you do get to ‘college’, you can focus more on other classes and get your program started a lot earlier,” Amber said, adding that while earning both sets of credits, she also enjoyed the “slow transition” for a move off to college.
CGTC became an instant fit for Amber. Then and now there are significant amounts of high school students taking classes alongside each other. However, she, like some of her peers and even her relatives, had to fight the perceived stigma associated with technical colleges.
“Even now there is still that stigma of, is a technical college as good as a university?” she said. “Why wouldn’t you go to CGTC? It still pushes you, it still has instructors who are going to challenge you and encourage you to exceed your expectations; to perform to the standards that they know you can achieve.”
Amber did eventually attend a four-year college away from home but moved back one semester in, citing that the environment felt “gigantic”, and was not as, “personal” as schools like CGTC can be. However, she is back at a local four-year school enrolled in Nursing.
The environment Amber spoke of largely consists of a mix of high school students with non-traditional, life-experienced adults like her mother Christina, who for that very reason is called, “Mama Hicks.”
“I am the old person that calls the younger students,” Christina said, who is enrolled in the competitive Dental Hygiene program on the Warner Robins campus. “They call me, ‘Mama Hicks,’ because there is no other person of my age in the class. They are all about my daughters age.”
“I’m the one trying to encourage them and pass on that sense of responsibility of how I grew up, that not everything is given to you and you’re expected to have enough responsibility to do it,” she said.
Being the mother to her own kids comes natural to Christina, but becoming “mama” to her peers had to be cultivated. For her, instructors were the example. If Christina is “Mama Hicks,” Wilhelmina Hicks, a math instructor at CGTC, who bears no relation whatsoever, is coincidentally the matriarch.
“She could probably tell you I sat right next to her in her classroom fretting school,” Cynthia said of Wilhelmina, “But she encouraged me and constantly told me I could do it. I wasn’t hidden in the classroom. I don’t think at any other college or university I would get that.”
“I was scared to go back to school. I was older when I started and my mind is not as sharp as theirs. Math has changed so much over the years, and I hadn’t written a paper in forever.”
Wilhelmina said networking and getting to know classmates is a big part to success in her courses.
“I like to use the phrase, ‘Don't be an island.’ Meaning, don't sit there and pretend to have it or be afraid to speak up for help when you don't know what's going on. Being afraid to speak up can cause you to be left behind when you don't have to. I try to tell my older or non-traditional students, not to give up. There are several factors that could have caused them to not go to school earlier, but that doesn't mean they are not as capable to obtain their goals as anyone else,” she said.
Cynthia was in the military –all she ever wanted to do - but put off that career to raise her family. When they moved back and Amber went to CGTC, her husband suggested she look to a new career. What drew her to look into CGTC was partly her daughter and the wide-range of programs, but also that lingering stigma that a technical college is like a community college, where the education comes a little easier.
“That is what drew me at first, but then I found out it wasn’t that way at all,” she said.
Even though the opportunity to go back to school overlapped with the dual enrollment of her children, Cynthia said she probably would have still gone back, even at CGTC.
“I’m comfortable with the technical college because it is smaller for me and convenient. You get the same education and the credit hour cost is more affordable,” she said.
Amber and her mother admitted that to them, the waffles in Belgium are better than the chocolate; they are filled with syrup on the inside, served warm and each bite rewarding. They are also accessible virtually everywhere and don’t cost as much as the chocolate. So, when it comes to a comparison of technical education versus the traditional university landscape, CGTC turned out to be served with many of the same waffle qualities.
Those qualities have extended to the younger two sons; a family heirloom of sorts. At the beginning of the spring semester, Christina, Christian and Johnathan were all enrolled in a course at CGTC. Don’t forget, Amber was in college too. So how did the family that schools together, stay together?
Strangely, there were not fights over computers or quiet time at home. All of them took classes at different times, different subject areas, and for different reasons. As fun as it might sound for any family, taking the same class together was not feasible. In fact, Christina said they all came to needing classes at CGTC in different ways. Amber was in need of credits, Christina in need of career, Christian in need of discovery, and Johnathan in need of a challenge.
Christian finished his senior year at the Houston County Career Academy where he took MOWR courses in Automotive, albeit late into its current model, Christian says MOWR is something he wishes he could have done more of, and that his peers should, “definitely take advantage of it”. Even still, he’s positioned to be certified, potentially landing him work that could help pay for the four-year degree he wants in Computer Engineering. He is enrolled full-time at CGTC for the upcoming semester.
Johnathan, who had been a homeschooled student, started in January taking the mini-mester approach. If he continues, he could have his associates degree when his peers are just graduating high school.
As the youngest, Johnathan may actually be positioned best for the advantages of a CGTC education. Now at HOCO for his senior year, he wants to enlist in the Coast Guard and is driven by eliminating distraction. He has a distinguished maturity and contentment. His age certainly doesn’t prohibit him from speaking for the entire family.
“At CGTC, the opportunities have been the best part,” he said.