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Posted by raherschbach on 1 Apr 2015

By Yonathan Goitom, Alumni Council President

As a young transfer student from Frostburg State University, I was pretty fired up about my education. I entered my sophomore year at Capitol Technology University – then known as Capitol College – with a sense of my potential as well as the motivation and passion to achieve academic success.

Potential and motivation aren’t enough, though. Any student, no matter how focused on the ultimate goal, must find a way to meet the financial obligations that come with a higher education.

It can be tough. Working at a job will help pay off the bills, but it can also cut into study time, hindering progress. Securing financial aid can make all the difference. So can the support of mentors and faculty.

I know this first-hand. To save money, I decided to move back to my parents’ house after living in a college apartment during my freshman year at Frostburg. While that reduced my expenses, it also meant becoming a commuter student. I had to give up the experience of living on campus and feeling like a full-fledged college student.

While at Capitol, I worked as a sales rep for Circuit City. Initially 10-15 hours per week were enough. As my financial burden increased, however, my part-time job became more like a full-time one, reaching 35-40 hours. It’s not hard to guess what happened as a result: my grades dropped. I also had less time available to mingle with fellow Capitol students and alumni, establish professional relationships, and identify internship opportunities.

It was at this time, when I was close to giving up on my college aspirations, that one of the important benefits of being at a small college became apparent. Though my situation was difficult, I had support. Professors at Capitol know their students on a first-name basis. I was not simply a name in a grade book. My instructors truly cared about my progress. They were committed to my success.

Claude Rankin, who chairs the business and humanities program at Capitol, saw that my academic record was slipping and wanted to know why. He listened to me patiently as I explained the difficulties of balancing work and school. And he didn’t just listen. An internship opportunity had come up, one that he felt I’d be an excellent match for.

It’s then that the difference at Capitol really hit home, The student to teacher ratio allows for faculty members to work closely with students and provide them with the attention they need -- not only when they are excelling, but when they’re struggling or facing obstacles. That’s often when they need the help of their professors the most.  You won’t often find that level of concern at a larger school, where you’re one of hundreds in an auditorium-size class.

Encouraged by Professor Rankin’s support, I applied and landed the opportunity. After that, everything changed: I made the dean’s list in successive years and graduated with an excellent GPA. Today I work for Red Hat, a leading global provider of open-source software.

As the president of Capitol’s Alumni Association, I have a strong and abiding interest in helping current students negotiate the types of challenges that I experienced firsthand. The Association recently stepped up to the plate by sponsoring the Fusion Lab, a unique facility that enables students to get hands-on systems engineering experience that will help them start their careers. We’re also endeavoring to expand our mentorship program, create professional development workshops and establish a more visible presence on campus.

If you are an alum, particularly one whose story sounds familiar to mine, or willing to work with the Alumni Council and the Association, we would like to hear from you.  Juggling classes, exams and financial obligations is never easy. With your help, though, we can assist students in meeting the challenge – and in keeping their focus where it should be: on achieving their educational goals.

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