American Dreams

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From becoming a band director to a career as a car designer, freshmen in the American Honors program at Kilgore College shared their dreams last week during a kickoff dinner.

While some may know exactly what they hope to achieve in school and in their careers, not everyone has a distinct vision in mind.

After seven years in the Army, Kilgore College American Honors Vice President Ricky Henderson said, he does not know exactly where his dream will lead, but the American Honors program has pushed him to do things he did not think he could do.

A member of the American Honors leadership team at KC, Henderson told the freshmen and sophomores in the room during the Oct. 12 Dream Big Dinner to not be afraid as they pursue their dreams.

“Don’t be afraid to take that big step. Don’t be afraid to do something out of your comfort zone,” he said. “A lot of things in this life are going to try to bury you down. A lot of things are going to put a stopper to what you think your dream was. Make it around that stopper, and you’ll find a bigger dream.”

Saying those dreams in front of their peers helps students realize those dreams because it can be difficult to transition from a community college to a four-year university.

The American Honors program is in its second year at Kilgore College and is part of a nationwide program in which students begin their collegiate journey at a community college and take more difficult honors classes and develop leadership skilles at a two-year college. Students who complete their two-year degree can then go on to a four-year university to earn their bachelor’s degree.

Although American Honors students apply to their university just like other students, there is a network of universities which work directly with American Honors students and their community college program to make the transition more seamless.

In her first year with the KC chapter of American Honors, adviser Kim Carrillo said her favorite part about the dinner and the program as a whole is the connection the students form with each other.

For commuter students at a community college, she said, it can be difficult to form relationships with each other and find friends and mentors, noting the importance of community and engagement for students.

“I love seeing that they’re still hanging out and they like each other,” Carrillo said.

While American Honors also attracts international students to participate in the program, Kilgore College will be introducing another program called American Success – also operated by the umbrella organization Quad Learning – to help improve international students’ college experience.

The program, which is at KC for the first time this semester, will help international students who may not have a firm grasp on English and need to take additional English classes before enrolling in college-level courses.

Ayu Arsani, of Indonesia, is not in American Honors yet, but she plans to join the program next semester. For her the attraction of the program is that the more difficult classes should smooth her transition to a four-year university as she pursues her degree in business management.

Multiple freshmen noted the bonds they have formed through American Honors is one of the best things about the program.

“I know everybody,” Santa Cruz said.

Shelby Thrash said she could not imagine going to college without being part of the American Honors program.

“I was terrified my first day just being in American Honors and I met a lot of people, and I have friends now that I normally probably wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for American Honors,” she said.

Although she does not know what her dream is exactly, Thrash said, being in the American Honors program has helped her interact with people she does not know and introduce herself.

Natasha Reitinger enrolled at Kilgore College in March to earn her GED after dropping out of high school. Then, the Friday before school started in August, she enrolled in the American Honors program.

“Kim has made the transition flawless, seamless,” she said. “She’s made it so fun and so easy to get back up on my feet… I was a high school dropout and I got pregnant at 17, so I was the scum of the pond or so I thought.”

Then, she was invited to apply for the American Honors program based on some of her tests.

“I was like, ‘Oh wait, I’m something?’ It was great for the self-esteem and it made me want to try, having people who were encouraging.”

Before enrolling in Kilgore College and the American Honors program, Reitinger said, her peers and faculty members help provide support and encouragement as she and the other students continue their education.

“It’s funny what you don’t know you’re capable of until you have people who are supportive and encouraging,” she said.

Thy Phung, of Vietnam, said the program gives the students an opportunity to talk to people and develop themselves as students and people.

“This is what I’m in it for,” Nick Geremia, assistant director for American Honors said, about the Dream Big Dinner. “Nobody gets in education for the money, so events like this – where we can just get kind of get together and celebrate the student – is what I’m in it for, start to finish. Seeing them set the goals and because it’s a two year program, I’m close enough that I can remind them of how close they are to achieving their goals and graduation.”

Geremia, who is based in New Jersey, began his relationship with American Honors in April 2014 when he was adviser for a college chapter. Students who were part of the program when Geremia first started as an adviser, are now preparing to graduate from their four-year university programs in 2018.

“It’s surreal because they come in and they’re 17 and 18 years old; you view them as babies, and I’ve realized that that mentality never really goes away,” he said. “It’s very similar to watching a kid grow up.”

When students enter the program, Geremia said, they do not know what they are capable of doing.

“They come in not believing that they can do anything. The majority of these students come in kind of wanting go to their local university down the street; and by the time they leave here and by the time they graduate from their four-year school, the world is their oyster and they can do anything and they believe it wholeheartedly with the core of their being. It’s so cool to watch that transformation happen in our students, to develop those connections and to know that you played a part in it is just incredible.”

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