October 31, 2016

by Bob Keyes

PORTSMOUTH – It’s no surprise that Erica Kneeland enrolled at Great Bay Community College. It’s a family tradition for the Kneelands of Brentwood. Erica, 18, a first-semester biology student, is the latest of four Kneeland siblings to enroll at Great Bay in five years.

Her brother Kevin, 19, is a second-semester criminal justice student. A sister, Schae, 21, was studying nursing before being deployed as a medic in the Army National Guard in January. Their oldest sister, Julia, 23, began the Great Bay tradition, graduating in 2013 before transferring to Keene State College. She works as a long-term substitute teacher in Nashua.

“Julia had such a great experience here. She saved a bunch of money before transferring to a four-year school,” Erica said. “I’m the youngest of four kids. My parents, they said, ‘You have to pay for your school.’ I knew I could do my general education classes here and save who-knows-how-much money.”

She works full time as a certified nursing assistant in Rochester, and appreciates the flexible class schedule that Great Bay offers, because it suits her busy life. She is taking 12 credits this semester, in addition to working 32 to 40 hours a week.

Kevin also heard great things about Great Bay around the dinner table. “That’s why we’re all here,” he said. “Julia always talked about it so positively.” Like his sister Schae, Kevin is a member of the Army National Guard. He hopes his background in the military and an associate’s degree in criminal justice from Great Bay qualifies him for a job in law enforcement. He is taking three classes this semester.

“I came to Great Bay to get career-ready,” he said. “Criminal justice is perfect for my background in the military and my interest in law enforcement.”

While taking classes at Great Bay, his immediate goal is finding a job working as part-time emergency dispatcher in addition to serving in the Army National Guard. An advisor at Great Bay suggested a job as a dispatcher “would be a good way to get my foot in the door of law enforcement,” Kevin said.

Erica and Kevin came to Great Bay from different perspectives. Kevin knew what he wanted in his life and career, and saw a Great Bay education as an economical and strategic means to an end. Erica wasn’t sure what she wanted to study, but knew Great Bay made sense because of the flexibility.

From her siblings’ experiences, she understood that Great Bay offered the most opportunities. While her high-school peers stressed over entrance exams and campus visits, Great Bay’s open-admission policy meant Erica didn’t have to write essays or pass tests to enroll.

As soon as she finished high school, she visited Great Bay’s Portsmouth campus, signed up for classes and began her college career. “Enrollment was easy, and the process was smooth,” she said. Her interest in biology stemmed from a biotechnology class she took at the Seacoast School of Technology. She enrolled at Great Bay with the intent of earning an associate’s degree in two years and transferring to UNH, where she will study molecular biology.

If she changes her mind, “I have two years to figure it out. That’s the great things about Great Bay. I can get my gen-eds here and still have time to make a decision.”

The siblings live together in the family home in Brentwood with their parents, Jennifer and Roy. Like a lot of brothers and sisters close in age, Erica and Kevin sometimes bicker. But they agree about Great Bay.

“It’s been really good for our family,” Erica said. “I’m really proud to be part of the tradition.”