By Meghan Brown
On Nov. 8, National First-Generation College Celebration Day recognized first-generation students across the country. At CCV, 55% of students are the first in their family to attend college. The college prioritizes the success of these students as seen through our mission to support and challenge all students in meeting their educational goals. Today, CCV is proud to celebrate all of our first-generation students. Featured here is such a student, Matthew Stoddard.
Setting an example
Growing up, going to college was never part of Stoddard’s life plan. He didn’t finish high school, but lacking a diploma didn’t affect his life for many years. He was able to find work, but “I just never seemed to elevate to any kind of level where I was making good money or I had good benefits,” Stoddard said of his previous jobs in packaging and receiving. As a single father, Stoddard was eligible for the Reach Up program through the Vermont Dept. for Children and Families (DCF), which provided extra financial support.
Through Reach Up, Stoddard was also encouraged to explore options for continuing his education. He earned his GED at Vermont Adult Learning in Rutland and continued on with the Post-Secondary Education Program through DCF. In 2018, he started classes at CCV-Rutland. Now, at 45 years old, Matthew is close to graduating from CCV with an associate degree in design and media studies and will also earn a certificate in graphic design.
As a first-generation student, starting college was a big step for Stoddard, one that he wasn’t ready to make when he was younger. His experience as a father has changed his outlook on education. “I wanted to set a good example for my son. I think [being a dad] really pushed me to go further and pursue an education.” In addition, “I feel like just worrying about the future and being financially stable also pushed me.”
Stoddard was apprehensive about starting at CCV. “I felt like I was too old,” he said. “I felt like, ‘am I just going to be with a bunch of young people who just graduated high school and I’ll be an outcast?’ But as soon as I took my first few classes I felt very welcomed and those kinds of thoughts just flew away.” At CCV, Stoddard was able to experience a diverse classroom with fellow students of all ages. “It was very inspiring.”
Despite his worries, Stoddard prevailed and quickly found a home at CCV-Rutland. “Everybody I’ve met is really inspiring, kind, and open-minded. All of the teachers are great. I haven’t found one I haven’t gotten along with and hasn’t challenged me and pushed me further. Also my advisors … They have really been great. Everyone just really worked together to help me through any kinds of problems I had,” he said.
Some of the challenges that Matthew had to overcome stemmed from working part-time and being a single father during a pandemic. Through the TRIO program, he got the financial and emotional support he needed to continue his studies. “Through TRIO, they’ve been the ones who’ve helped me get a computer, helped me when my electric bill was overdue…I think it’s been completely invaluable. Without my advisor’s guidance and help I don’t know if I would have made it,” he said. “She keeps pushing me and you feel like you have somebody there to bounce ideas off of or explain problems and she’s gonna find a way to help me and a way to solve that problem. It’s a really great support system.”
Now that he has almost completed his time at CCV, Stoddard reflects on his college journey: “I’m surprised at how welcoming and easy it was. I think in my mind I always looked at college as this much more challenging thing that I could never be a part of. Once I got into it, it came easier to me than I would have expected.” With the skills he’s learned in the design and media studies program, he feels confident that he will be able to “find a way I could make money doing something creative.”
Stoddard plans to continue his education in the graphic design program at Castleton University, and hopes to one day start his own business. Despite his previous apprehensions and challenges, Stoddard says that his education is invaluable. “I really believe that no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to further your education.”