Each year at commencement, Community College of Vermont (CCV) awards the Alumni Scholarship to graduates who plan to continue their studies at a 4-year college or university. The 2020 Alumni Scholarship area recipient is Kaleigh Nutting.

Kaleigh’s priorities are clear: she loves Vermont and wants to stay close to home. She wants to make the best financial decisions she can. And she wants to be successful in life.

“I want to do a job that I love to do, because it doesn’t feel like a job when you enjoy it.”

That’s why she got serious about her schoolwork when she was a student at Lake Region Union High School in Orleans. As a junior, she took a dual enrollment class at CCV, Introduction to Criminal Justice, and then spent her senior year as a full-time CCV student through the Early College program.

“I wanted to take better advantage of my education,” she says of making the choice to jump-start her college degree and finish high school at the same time. “Early College gave me a chance to earn 30 college credits for the whole year, at no cost to me. It gave me a chance to explore what I wanted to do in college, without going into debt.”

Kaleigh decided to stay on at CCV after Early College, and this spring, as many of her peers are completing their first year of college coursework, she’s already earned her associate degree. She plans to continue on to a bachelor’s program at Northern Vermont University this fall; her CCV alumni scholarship will go toward NVU tuition.

Even before she was a CCV student herself, Kaleigh had a connection to the college: her mother earned a degree from CCV when Kaleigh was 10-years-old. “She was allowed to bring me to classes, so I sat in the back and colored.” Kaleigh remembers thinking that her mom was cool for being a college student.

Coming from a small high school, Kaleigh felt at home at CCV. “The environment overall was really amazing. The front desk staff made it enjoyable, they were always there to help and point me in the right direction. I liked that there were a lot of different age groups and different types of people — I really like that about CCV, they’re just accepting of everyone.”

She worked closely with her advisor, Kay McIsaac, to make a plan for transferring to NVU, where she’ll study criminal justice. “Kaleigh sets her sights on what she wants and goes for it,” McIsaac shared in an email. “She has had to work and pay for her schooling with little to no assistance. Full-time job, full-time student, and full-time effort.” Kaleigh says CCV supported this effort by helping her learn valuable time management skills. “CCV showed me that it is possible to do school and work at the same time.”

The personalized guidance she got from McIsaac and other CCV staff was key to her success. “They gave me help with figuring out all the options … They really get involved. You don’t have to go to them, they come and find you. It makes me feel like they’re dedicated to us.”

During her time as a CCV student, Kaleigh has worked as a call center representative, as a substitute teacher at Brownington Central School, and, since January, as an intern with Northeast Kingdom Community Action’s (NEKCA) Court Diversion Program. Between her internship and her academics, she’s been able to pursue her interest in criminal justice. She says CCV classes “really made me challenge myself. A lot of the projects were built around what we want to do in our field…college gave me a chance to explore. The guidelines were there, and I got to explore and experience what I was interested in.”

Kaleigh hopes to stay on at NEKCA as she continues on to bachelor’s degree. She says building professional relationships and connections now can only help her later on. “Where I live, it’s all word of mouth. So it’s very important.” Her education is critical, she says, because “the degree shows that you have a background, and if you’ve done an internship, that you have experience. It gives me more of a foot in the door.”

At NEKCA, she’s developing her passion for helping others. “Diversion shows people that there is a second chance, that one little thing you did wrong isn’t gonna define you for the rest of your life. It’s trying to get people to stay in a community so that they can be successful members of that community. It gives them a chance to turn their life around and be better … I feel like it really helps make a difference, and I like trying to make a difference in people’s lives.”

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