The first time Judy Oglesby considered going to college, she was 36-years-old “staring divorce in the face” and trying to figure out how she would support her two children moving forward.
A simple act got her interested in teaching – her son’s kindergarten teacher noticed the skill she exhibited as a volunteer at the school. A year of encouragement led her to enroll at Halifax Community College and, two years later, at East Carolina University.
Oglesby was part of the College of Education’s Partnership East program, which allows students to complete the first two years of an education degree at one of 20 participating community colleges in eastern and central North Carolina before transferring to ECU. All ECU teacher preparation classes can then be taken online and part-time.
The aim is to provide students with access to high-quality degree programs close to home, so that they might remain in those communities to teach after graduation. And that’s what Oglesby has done – graduating in 2010 and now teaching second grade at Belmont Elementary in her hometown, Roanoke Rapids.
“It was a saving grace,” Oglesby said of the program. “It turned things around for my family.”
A generous gift from the State Employees’ Credit Union Foundation ensures more non-traditional students like Oglesby will get that same chance. The Foundation awarded East Carolina University’s College of Education $2.28 million July 17 to continue educating aspiring teachers in rural areas.
The donation funds scholarships for Partnership East students in their senior year, during which they cannot work because they are completing full-time internships in the classroom. More than 225 students are currently enrolled at ECU through Partnership East. The $2.28 million gift will be distributed to students over the next five years.
Partnership East students earn a bachelor of science in elementary education, middle grades education or special education. More than 75 percent of program graduates are teaching in North Carolina and 94 percent of those are in eastern North Carolina.
“This serves the dire need we have for teachers in poor, eastern rural communities,” said ECU Provost Dr. Marilyn Sheerer, who is also a member of the SECU Foundation board. “It’s really exciting that the State Employees’ Credit Union is willing to do this.”
Sheerer recused herself from the foundation’s Partnership East vote, but was on hand to answer last-minute questions. Kendra Alexander, major gifts officer for the College of Education, also played a key role in connecting the university and the foundation.
“State Employees’ Credit Union has a huge footprint in eastern North Carolina, and serving people in that area has always been an aim,” said Mark Twisdale, executive director of the Foundation. “It is difficult to find a project that spreads a net as wide in that area as Partnership East. This connects us with the community college system, public schools and East Carolina University.
“It’s not just sending money,” he added, “but giving people an opportunity they wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Oglesby said it’s given her children new opportunities, too. They don’t doubt that they’ll go to college because they watched her do it, she said.
“We are all so indebted to the State Employees’ Credit Union for its support of our Partnership East Pipeline Teacher Preparation Program,” agreed Dr. Linda Patriarca, dean of the College of Education. “The gift helps us to fulfill our mission and commitment to prepare high quality teachers for the region – especially for those rural communities.”
The SECU Foundation promotes local and community development by primarily funding high impact projects in the areas of housing, education, health care and human services.