For the past nine years, a unique partnership between the Pitt Community College Foundation, the local school system, and several charitable organizations has been giving Pitt County high school students the opportunity to see a brighter future through education.
Called the VISIONS Career Development and Scholarship Program, the collaborative effort between PCC and Pitt County Schools also involves the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation and the Greater Greenville Foundation. It was started in 2004 as a way to help reduce the county’s high school drop-out rate and increase the number of students attending college.
Each year since, VISIONS has provided a select group of students from each of the county’s six public high schools with the direction and support they need in order to obtain diplomas and move into higher education. In fact, in the years since VISIONS began, nearly 100 percent of the students who have taken part in the program have completed high school.
According to Marianne Cox, PCC VISIONS High School Coordinator, VISIONS students who enroll at PCC upon receiving their diplomas receive personal and academic counseling at the college in addition to $1,000-scholarships ($500 per semester). She added that students can renew their scholarships for a second year if they have maintained a 2.3 grade point average as freshmen.
Due to the success of the first VISIONS class of 27 students, Eddie Smith, owner of Greenville’s Grady-White Boats and the VISIONS program’s benefactor, increased funding over the years to allow more Pitt County students to participate. In December 2012, the program welcomed its largest class ever, when 63 Pitt County high school juniors met on the PCC campus for orientation.
“We look for students who are eager to take advantage of the opportunity to earn a college degree at PCC and who may not have any other means to do so without assistance from the VISIONS program,” Cox said.
Students are recommended for VISIONS by their high school teachers and career development coordinators, based on a variety of factors, including academic performance, financial need and career interest. The students, Cox said, must also be interested in attending PCC and go through an interview process with VISIONS coordinators before they can be accepted into the program.
In addition to being the largest class, Cox said the most recent VISIONS group was chosen earlier than any other in program history.
“We felt that the earlier we could begin working with these students, the better,” she explained. “It gives the students assurance that if they follow through with what we ask of them through VISIONS, they will have a scholarship to attend college. It also gives us more time to explore career options with the students and to help them better prepare for college.”
Cox emphasized the importance of career exploration, saying that once students have an idea of what they want to do professionally, it is much easier for them to see the educational pathways to those careers.
“If students identify career interests as high school juniors, they can plan to take courses as seniors that will give them a better idea of what the profession entails and then decide if that is truly something they want to pursue,” she added.
Through her role with VISIONS, Cox monitors each high school participant’s academic progress by traveling to their schools from time to time and meeting with them one-on-one and in group settings. The students also receive mentoring, tutoring, and academic and personal advising from PCC staff, and Cox arranges seminars for them on important topics, such as goal-setting, establishing good credit, and applying for federal financial aid.
With the addition of the latest VISIONS class, there are currently 113 Pitt County high school students participating in the program.
Cox said the 50 VISIONS students from the class of 2013 continue to receive mentoring and advising services from PCC staff. This summer, she said, they will take part in SPAN, an academic enrichment program at the college, to ensure they are ready for college-level work when the fall semester begins at PCC
“The VISIONS program has helped create a path to success for me. I come from a single-parent family of four, and I know that my mother would not be able to pay for me and all of my siblings to go to college. Being able to take part in this spectacular program has not only helped me go to college, it has shown me that everyone can have a bright future if they’ll just go after it.”
“I know I’m new to VISIONS as a high school junior, but I feel that this program was meant for me. I was always the type who didn’t like school and didn’t want to go to college for too long. But VISIONS has given me something to look forward to in life. I look forward to being part of the program, because I know that through the support I will receive, I can do more than I ever thought I could. Just being chosen to participate in VISIONS has given me more confidence in myself. I feel honored to have been chosen as a VISIONS student.”
“I am so thankful for the VISIONS program and the people who created it. I must say that if it weren’t for VISIONS, I probably wouldn’t be thinking of going to college, especially with the way the economy is right now. I like how I have been able to meet new people through the program and have learned so much from each of them. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend VISIONS to anyone.”