“The professors in the Great Bay English and Humanities department made my experience positive and memorable. The class discussions were always fruitful.”
Even before graduating from Portsmouth High School in the top 15 percent of her class in 2014, Emma Levin has second thoughts about committing to a four-year college education.
“Study yourself into a six-figure ditch of debt and then work tirelessly over the next decades to dig yourself out,” she said. “At the same time, I was not immune to the allure of the ‘traditional college experience.’ Going to college seemed like the most practical way for me to meet interesting people, to learn new skills, to travel.”
She committed to a small liberal arts college in Connecticut and started that fall. Levin found pockets of joy playing club rugby and taking art classes, but she mostly felt lousy and lost. “I did not seriously consider returning to school, as I truly felt as if I was not cut out to be a student. My experience at college had been humiliating at best, traumatizing at worst,” she said.
Instead, she worked retail jobs in Newington and Portsmouth while her peers studied abroad in places like Seville and Copenhagen.
She enrolled as a part-time student at Great Bay Community College in January 2018 and has balanced work and school since. She studied liberal arts at Great Bay, graduating in December 2019 with an associate of arts in Liberal Arts. She is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of New Hampshire. She expects to graduate in 2022. In addition to her classes, Levin works nearly full time at a Portsmouth publishing company.
She said Great Bay helped her rehabilitate her confidence and skills as a student. “I was challenged to improve my writing and my communication abilities by some very engaged professors. The expectations of the Great Bay faculty are well-aligned with those of professors at UNH. Also, the New Hampshire community colleges and state universities are connected as part of the larger system of higher education. Because of this, Great Bay tends to use the same technologies and follow the same procedures. Many professors at Great Bay studied at or taught at UNH, or teach there now, so they have good insight into the goings-on at the university.”
At Great Bay, she most appreciated the variety of student backgrounds. Some students were career-changers, others served in the military. Many of her peers had jobs while studying at Great Bay, and many were married with kids. The richness of experience and diversity of backgrounds among the community of students added dimension and depth to her educational experience.
“It was so helpful, for instance, when reading texts about motherhood, to hear from students who occupy that role. At Great Bay, I started to see my age and my previous work experience as an asset in the classroom rather than an embarrassment. Being a worker in my 20s made me average at Great Bay, so I never felt self-conscious about it.”
The classes were small and engaged, the discussion lively. She singled out “Critical Thinking in the Humanities.” “The course was kind of a cultural survey examining different movements in the Humanities. I liked it because we studied all kinds of literature, visual art, music, architecture, and histories, and sought to better understand their contexts.”
English courses convinced her to continue with her English studies. “The professors in the Great Bay English and Humanities department made my experience positive and memorable. The class discussions were always fruitful.”
She studied English because she was good at it and she enjoyed it. It made her happy and curious, and that seemed more like what college was supposed to be about instead of tension, anxiety, and stress. She wishes she realized that back in high school, before the idea of the liberal arts college in Connecticut came into the picture.
Great Bay gave her the freedom to discover and explore her inner core, true self, and honest calling.