How a Degree From Great Bay CC Changed my Life

How a Degree From Great Bay CC Changed my Life

Mike Tuttle PhotoIt was an act of desperation, really. I had thought about going back to school before, but I was starting to approach middle age and I didn't think it was possible. My upbringing was steeped in working-class ritualism, and I was always told that you had but one opportunity to go to college; right after high-school. After that, it wasn't possible. If you didn't go on to college, you had to find work at some company that had some kind of job security and stick it out for thirty or forty years. That's it: case closed. I had even stopped talking about it with my parents and siblings. They would merely scoff at the idea and I'd hear the standard response:

"You should have thought about that while you were screwing-off in high-school," they'd say, or "How are you going hold down a full-time job and go to school?"

Besides, my career seemed to be doing ok anyway. I had advanced to the title of Senior Engineering Technician by my mid-thirties, a career made possible by my navy training and experience. Both my father and his brother had achieved engineering titles strictly through either military or corporate training coupled with experience.

At one time, companies would bring folks like them on board and invest the time and resources to train them. What they'd get in return was a lifelong employee, with years of company knowledge and experience. The time when doing what they had done, however, was drawing to a close. In the booming economy, many people were leaving such jobs for more money with other companies. Furthermore, qualified replacement personnel were difficult to find to fill the shoes of these departing workers. More and more prospective employers were insisting on a college degree as a requirement to fill these positions.

On September 11, 2001, a handful of terrorists, several box-cutters, and four passenger jets changed my life along with thousands of others. The company I worked for was a start-up that was funded by venture capital from outside investors. After the attack, many of these pulled their money out of the company, and lay-offs ensued. Downsizing was starting to occur all over the place, in many industries. As the job market tightened up, the requirement for a college degree became the standard. I simply could not find work at the level I had been at. With a mortgage payment to make, I was starting to get very worried after six or seven months.

Desperate to keep my career alive, I took a fateful step that forever changed my career and my life. I was very apprehensive about applying for admission to Great Bay Community College. I was afraid they would tell me what I expected to hear; that there was no way I would be accepted. I had had an experience very similar to that at my local state university when I got out of the military.

Instead, I found helpful people, who were quite willing to walk me through the process, including financial aid, which I didn't even know existed. After being accepted, I still doubted. It wasn't after successfully completing my first two classes that I realized I was actually doing it. I was going to college.

To say this was a life changing event would be a gross understatement. Within the next two semesters, I was being called for job interviews despite the fact that I had not completed my degree. Just the fact that I was in the process of earning one put me back in the running, and I was soon working as an Engineering Technician / Project Manager for an RF component manufacturer in Manchester N. H. From there, I was hired as a Project Engineer at a defense contractor in the same town.

Although the crash of 2008 put me out of work again, by returning to school to finish my associate degree, I was back to work again in six months. When I completed my associate’s degree, I decided to go for a bachelor's degree. What was true for my associates, proved to be just as true for my bachelor's, and soon I landed a job as a Research Project Support Engineer at the University of New Hampshire's Chase Ocean Engineering Laboratory, the job I hold presently. I never would have had the opportunity to work at a cutting-edge, multimillion dollar research facility without having attended college. When I finish my bachelor's degree, I wonder if the same will hold true for a master's degree.

Needless to say, attending and graduating from Great Bay Community College was more than just 'something worth doing.' It literally moved me to the next level, and provided me with opportunities I wouldn't have considered possible before. Even more than that, it gave me the confidence to dream of things I had always thought were over my head and beyond reach. This has done far more than change my life; it has redefined it. It has done more than qualify me for jobs, it has given me career choices I never thought existed, or, at the very least, did not exist for me.

This is why I now believe in supporting local community colleges everywhere, and I am always happy to contribute what I can to my alma mater as alumni, knowing the worth of this institution and its great value to the working people of our community. If anyone asks you whether or not they should go back to school, tell them it’s well worth it, maybe they, too, will start something 'great.'