Methodist Cross and mission

Life After School Summit helps dreams come true

An event organized by a United Methodist Church in Taylors, S.C., shows the positive influence churches can have in encouraging young people to continue their education. More than 150 youth and family members attended the Life After School Summit at St. Mark UMC in Taylors, S.C., on May 17, 2014, for presentations and exhibits by representatives from colleges and universities, the armed forces and other organizations.

For the past decade, St. Mark has sponsored an annual education program about scholarships and college testing requirements typically attended by 7-12 students and their family members from the congregation. This year, however, the program was opened to anyone in the community, and about 125 students and 45-50 parents participated, including several busloads of participants from other churches. “One of the most powerful things we had was nine of our [church’s] college students, ranging from freshmen to first year out of college, who were on a student-only panel,” said church member Derek McGowan, a corporate campus relations manager and former U.S. Air Force recruiter who chaired the church’s program committee. “They opened up and talked about anything those students needed to know about going to college. That received the highest marks.”

Representatives from seven colleges and universities, the military and other organizations were present for workshops, counseling sessions and other presentations. More than $280,000 in scholarships were offered to students attending the event. Melanie Overton, assistant general secretary for Schools, Colleges and Universities at the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry, said the St. Mark event is a great example of how churches can help high school students. “The church has a role to play in mentoring students,” Overton said. “Some students need the help of a community to explore their options and prepare themselves to make the best possible decision about their future.” Churches are a part of young people’s lives long before they begin thinking about college, Overton said. “Churches are there when kids are in middle school and high school, and they are the ones who can help nurture their aspirations and help them think about financial planning and those kinds of things,” Overton said.

Six workshops ran simultaneously in church classrooms on topics such as job enrichment opportunities, military careers and parenting first-year college students. A representative of the Workforce Development Agency in nearby Greenville talked about summer jobs for students. A panel of parents discussed how to help students get through their first semester. Other speakers talked about how to fill out job applications and how to be successful in interviews.  One standing-room-only session featured college coaches and players who spoke about NCAA rules and requirements. “A lot of students were thinking how easy it is to be on scholarship and go to college, so some of the high school coaches sent their football teams to the meeting,” McGowan said.

“We didn’t want to exclude anyone in our congregation by focusing on academia only. That’s why we called it the Life After School Summit,” McGowan said. “Traditionally, churches have a college program or something that’s college-focused, [and] there is nothing there for people who want to go to technical colleges, two-year schools, trade schools or the military. So adding that component made it a much more successful program because those rooms were filled, as well.”

Retired teachers and educators in St. Mark’s congregation served as part of the support team for the summit, and 7th and 8th grade students wore “Ask Me” t-shirts and helped participants find their sessions. The church’s hospitality committee provided free lunch to everyone attending.

One college participating was Spartanburg Methodist College, a two-year liberal arts institution in nearby Spartanburg, S.C., where more than half of its 800 students are the first in their families to attend college.

“A two-year school [like Spartanburg Methodist] is really a great place for people to start, especially if they are first-generation students, because of the one-on-one attention that our students receive,” said Dr. Colleen Perry Keith, president of the 103-year-old United Methodist-related college. She said because the college focuses on the first two years, faculty and staff really understand the challenges these first-generation college students face. “And we work to try to make those challenges manageable for them,” she added. Nationally, about 20 percent of students who start two-year colleges complete their four-year degree elsewhere, but that percentage at Spartanburg Methodist is more than four times greater, Keith said. “Our mean graduation rate for the last nine years is 41.3 percent for those who actually go for the full two years and meet all of the degree requirements to graduate,” she said. But Keith said 82 percent of Spartanburg’s students either graduate or go on to pursue their education somewhere else.

Following on the summit’s success, McGowan said St. Mark is planning another educational event later this year.

Dr. Colleen Keith 72313

SMC’s Dr. Colleen Perry Keith to speak at Spartanburg High School’s Academic Excellence Awards Program

Spartanburg High School will hold their 2014 Academic Excellence Awards Program on Monday, March 31 at 7 p.m. in the Spartanburg High Gym.   Last year one hundred and seventy-seven students in 10th-12th grade were recognized for being National Merit Finalists/Semi-finalists, National Achievement Finalists/Semi-finalists, achieving a Perfect SAT/PSAT Score, Straight A’s, 4.12+ and 4.50+ GPR, and for their selection to the Governor’s School (Academics).

The SHS Academic Awards Program, established in 1990, honors students who have excelled in a variety of academic pursuits and in addition to recognition, the event allows students to have an opportunity to hear distinguished speakers who have excelled in their careers.  Prior speakers have included such personalities as Bruce Littlejohn, Chief Justice (Retired) South Carolina Supreme Court; Richard W. Riley, Former US Secretary of Education, Jean Toal, Associate Justice SC Supreme Court, George Dean Johnson, Jr., the Honorable Trey Gowdy, US House of Representatives, as well as many other community and state leaders.

The 2014 address will be provided by Dr. Colleen Perry Keith, who has served as President of Spartanburg Methodist College since July, 2009.  Her talk will challenge those in attendance to pay attention to the historical time they are in, and bring their talents to bear to offer solutions to issues as each chooses what career path they want to follow.

A native of northern New York, Keith has more than 25 years of experience in higher education, in capacities including student service roles, program development, teaching, fund raising, and administration. Dr. Keith earned a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University, a Master of Education degree in Educational Counseling from the University of Pittsburgh and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from State University of New York, University Center at Binghamton.

Under Dr. Keith’s leadership, SMC successfully completed a $15 million capital campaign ahead of schedule; built an $11 million academic building; launched two new academic degree programs; implemented new bridge programs and articulation agreement with senior institutions; led efforts resulting in a 249% increase in annual donor gifts and pledges; energized marketing efforts resulting in the doubling of annual prospective student inquiries from 3,000 to nearly 6,000; and received national recognition for SMC service initiatives involving faculty, staff and students. 

Keith, an active presenter and panelist, is the current President of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of The United Methodist Church, and a current member of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, College and University Personnel Association, and the Association of Governing Boards.  She serves on the Advisory Board, South Carolina Women in Higher Education (partner organization of The American Council of Education’s Office of Women in Higher Education); is the 2013-14 Secretary of the South Carolina Higher Education Tuition Grants Commission; and is a member of the Executive Committee of the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, in addition to serving on their President’s Council and Finance Committee.

She currently is a member of the Diversity Leaders Initiative Advisory Committee for the University of South Carolina School of Medicine;  Board of Directors, Mary Black Foundation; Board of Directors, Greer Educational Foundation; Board of Directors, Hospice Division, Spartanburg Regional Hospital Foundation; Board of Directors, The Arts Partnership, Spartanburg, SC, serving on both the Financial Policies and Governance Committees; Board of Directors, College Town Inc., Spartanburg, SC; Board of Directors, Habitat for Humanity; and is a member and lector of The Roman Catholic Church of Jesus Our Risen Savior.

In January, Dr. Keith began a two-year term as Chair of the Board of Directors, for the Spartanburg Area Chamber of Commerce, where she also serves on the Public Affairs Committee and Workforce Education Committee.

Curry talk

SMC to host Georgia author Carolyn Curry

Spartanburg Methodist College will host author Carolyn Curry for a talk and book signing on Tuesday, March 25th from 3 to 4 p.m. in the SMC Davis Mission Chapel.  Curry’s “Suffer and Grow Strong, The Life of Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas, 1834–1907,” is destined to become a classic in women’s studies, and is as enjoyable as it is educational.

Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas’s journals have long been an indispensable source for anyone seeking to understand the nineteenth-century South and Southern white women’s experiences,” says Michele Gillespie, Presidential Professor of History at Wake Forest University. “Yet surprisingly, Thomas has never been the subject of a full-length biography. Carolyn Curry’s welcome new book carefully documents Thomas’s life story and puts her journals into an intriguingly fresh context.”

Ella Gertrude Clanton Thomas was an intelligent, spirited woman born in 1834 to one of the wealthiest families in Georgia. At the age of fourteen she began and kept a diary for forty-one years. These diaries of her life before, during, and after the Civil War filled thirteen hand-written volumes with 450,000 words. In the early years she described her life of leisure and recorded the books she read. Her father recognized her love of learning and sent her to the first college for women in America, Wesleyan Female College in Macon, Georgia. After college graduation in 1851, she was a “gay young girl of fashion” who met and married her Princeton-educated husband in 1852.  However, with the coming of the Civil War and its aftermath, her life changed forever.

Thomas experienced loss of wealth, bankruptcy, the death of loved ones, serious illness, and devastating family strife. She gave birth to ten children and saw four of them die. But, through it all, she kept pouring thoughts into her diary. Thomas examined what was happening, asked questions, and strived to find ways to improve her family’s dire economic straits. She started a school in her home and later ran a boarding house out of the old family mansion.

In 1893, Thomas left Augusta and moved to Atlanta where she became active in many women’s organizations. She found comfort in her work with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and the Suffrage Movement. She began producing articles for newspapers, keeping them in scrapbooks that tell the story of her life after she quit keeping a diary. In 1899 she was elected president of the Georgia Woman Suffrage Association. Because of her own losses, Thomas was sensitive to the well-being of other women. As she said, she had “suffered and grown strong.” Her life is an amazing story of survival and transformation that speaks to women in our own time.

History has been a great silencer of women, but on Tuesday, March 25th SMC invites you to experience this masterfully researched and inspirational story of a remarkable Southern woman, written by a Southern woman, with women, like yourself, from around the Upstate at the 3 p.m. talk and book signing event.  The public is invited and admission is free of charge.

Carolyn Newton Curry holds a BA in English from Agnes Scott College and MA and PhD degrees in History from Georgia State University. She has taught at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta and The University of Kentucky. Curry is the founder and chair of Women Alone Together®, a non-profit foundation created to meet the needs of women who are alone in our culture. The well-being of women past and present has been her lifelong passion. Curry resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

Fleming and Keith

Converse/SMC Partnership Paves Way to Four-Year Degrees

Converse and Spartanburg Methodist College are partnering to streamline the college transfer process and help students complete their four-year degree. Presidents Betsy Fleming and Colleen Perry Keith signed an agreement to create The Converse Bridge Program, which guides students in selecting appropriate coursework at SMC to transfer into degree programs at Converse. The partnership aims to increase accessibility to four-year degrees, save students time and money over the course of their college career, and positively impact the education level of our community.

“Put simply, this is all about expanding access to a college education,” said President Fleming. “Converse is working on all fronts to ensure that our distinctive, high-quality educational experience is possible for talented young women from all backgrounds. This partnership guarantees that SMC students are best prepared to transition into Converse degree programs. It also demonstrates that Converse values transfer students’ contribution to our community and that we are committed to their success.”

As the only two-year, independent, residential college in South Carolina, SMC provides a nurturing and challenging environment that focuses on preparing students to continue liberal arts studies at four-year institutions. “Each year, several of our women graduates transfer to Converse to complete their baccalaureate degrees,” said President Keith. “It has always been a smooth transfer process but this agreement further strengthens that process and brings SMC and Converse into a closer relationship that will benefit our students even more. The fact that Converse is just across town from SMC makes this a very selfish agreement for me personally: it means I can still see our students after they leave us!”

The partnership involved an extensive study of Converse and SMC courses to align the requirements in a number of majors and map the appropriate coursework for transitioning into third-year studies at Converse. This information will be available via the Converse website for SMC students who plan to continue studies at Converse, and is meant to be a helpful planning tool for both SMC students and their advisors.

Colleagues Jeff Barker and Ann Bowles, Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs at Converse and SMC, are committed to making the transition process smooth for students. “Access and affordability are essential to student success in college and the new Converse Bridge Program will help make that possible for SMC students,” said Barker. “Our goal with this bridge program is a seamless transition from SMC to Converse that removes any potential academic or administrative stumbling blocks to earning a four-year degree on time.”

Bowles underscores SMC’s aim to not only provide the first two years of a baccalaureate degree, but also start students on a direct pathway to complete that degree. “Many students who come to college aren’t sure what that pathway looks like,” she said. “Bridge programs like the SMC-Converse connection enable students to see how they can accomplish their educational goals and assure them that they will find a welcoming higher learning community at the senior institution. That is a strong incentive to earn the four-year degree.”

One Student’s Journey of Determination, Vision, and Support

Stories like that of Laura Morales, who graduated as valedictorian from SMC last spring and is now a junior at Converse, demonstrate the value of partnerships like this best. Laura’s journey from SMC to Converse was marked by determination, vision, and critical support from many people along the way. A capable young woman with a bright future, she is similar to many whose dream of a high quality college education is seemingly beyond reach. Her story underscores the many ways two institutions can partner to strengthen their collective impact in our world, and her excitement about new possibilities through The Converse Bridge Program is palpable.

“Visiting Converse during high school was very inspiring – everything seemed to be full of life and I knew this is where I wanted to spend my college years,” Morales begins. “As I started to attend Converse events and make friends with Converse students, this only fueled my dream more. However, I knew my mom – as a single parent – could not afford a Converse education for me. It has been an arduous journey but I never gave up, and ultimately my determination to go to Converse got me here.

“My mom cleans houses, and two of her clients had SMC connections. Just three weeks before classes started in fall 2011, these women took me to SMC to talk with Ron Laffitte, the Dean of Students. He understood my situation and my dream of college, and we worked out a plan for me to attend SMC. My mom’s clients, who became and are still my mentors, also helped pay some of my expenses at SMC.

“I found a host family to live with through Baptist College Ministries, so I did not have to pay room and board, and my mom worked extra hard so she could pay some of the tuition. I felt a tremendous amount of pressure and expectation from my family and people who knew my situation.

“I learned to be extremely disciplined, working hard to make sure my room was always clean and everything in my life was organized. I learned to respect people from all kinds of backgrounds and saw how other people live their lives. I learned the benevolence of people.

“My college career began with an open mind and determined attitude. I showed my professors that I was capable of thoughtful work, staying up countless nights studying. I ended up having the top grade point average in my graduating class, proving to myself that diligence, determination and a good attitude really would get me anywhere I wanted to go in life. I was an admissions ambassador and worked with alumni, I was part of the women’s tennis team and editor for the Trailblazer newspaper, I volunteered as a tutor and traveled to D.C. to speak with Congressman Trey Gowdy about poverty in Spartanburg, and I was chosen by the campus community to be the student commencement speaker. Today, I see endless possibilities for the goodness in life because of the experiences I had at SMC.

“One of my professors, Briles Lever (whose late mother, Joe Ann Lever, was a long-time dean at Converse) came to Converse several times to help arrange a plan for me to enroll here. Another SMC professor, Lori Merck, who is a Converse graduate, also visited with me to help figure out how my courses would transfer. She even offered for me to live with her if I couldn’t afford room and board at Converse, and I was amazed that she was so willing to go out of her way to make sure I could finish my education.

“Because I attended SMC, I am now more aware and ready to be part of Converse.

Being a Converse student means I can do and be anything – it means being a leader and an independent critical thinker. It’s also humbling to be part of a network of incredible women who have transformed the world that I live in. SMC opened my eyes to a bigger picture of the world and now Converse gives me the tools to tell my story and learn more about that world. For me, this is the best possible combination.

“The more we can make an education accessible to people that want it, the better our community and the world at large will become. I am thrilled beyond words about what the future will look like after this great partnership takes off. Can you imagine the hundreds of students that will make a positive impact in the community because of this partnership? I can, because SMC and Converse are fundamentally grounded in the positive contributions people can make.”