Community College Continuum

by USjournal Student Writer: Rebecca Darrup, Cross-Country Cowgirl

The first week of class is almost complete! With one more class this afternoon, and rodeo practice after that, it has been so good to get back to New Mexico and back into the college swing of things. My school, Mesalands Community College in New Mexico, has always felt welcoming and "homey" to me -- something I truly appreciate. There's nothing like walking into the main building and hearing a joking voice say, "Oh no, that Pennsylvania girl is back!"

Mesalands Community College, New Mexico

That, to me, is one of the huge benefits of a community college. While our enrollment may only be around 1,100 students, many of the students are taking online classes, and quite a few more are dual-enrollment students, meaning that they come from the high school just down the road for a few college classes in addition to their high school work. It's hard to say what the actual number of students on campus is, but being a community college, Mesalands is a very small, student-oriented school. I know that I'm more than "just a number..." On any given day, I can walk into one of the buildings on campus and have a conversation with at least six people before I leave. The faculty looks out for the students in the same way we students look out for one another, and because there are so few of us, in some sense, it's almost like an extended family. For example, there are two staff members in particular who always check with me to make sure I'm going to church and offer to go with me (since they know me well enough to know how important my faith is to me), as well as to make sure I'm not too homesick.

Mesalands Community College, New Mexico

One disadvantage of the low enrollment: Mesalands does not offer dormitories on campus, so each student is responsible for his / her own living arrangements. Mesalands' executive board may consider building dorms, but it seems like a vicious cycle -- the state won't allocate funds to build dorms until the student population increases... but the student population won't increase as rapidly until we get dorms.

While that does provide somewhat of a challenge for students (especially those from out of state and out of the country), it has helped every single one of us to make wiser decisions in how we spend our money, where we go and when, how to choose a good roommate (I'm still not good at that one, unfortunately), and will make it much easier to transition to a different apartment or to a house one day down the road. While it's frustrating at first, the routine of paying bills, buying groceries, and cleaning quickly becomes just another part of life, and it's something that we will have to learn, sooner or later!

Another very unique thing about a community college is the variety of programs offered. While there are the more traditional majors, such as General Studies, Nursing, several Education degrees, and Business, there are also a good amount of programs you won't find at a university. At Mesalands, these slightly "off-the-wall" degrees include Farrier Science (taking care of horses' feet), Paleontology, Graphic Design, Cowboy Arts (building items for use in the western lifestyle), and Wind Energy Technology. It's also easier to "build your own major" at a community college. Right now, I am a Liberal Arts major, working on classes involving Cowboy Arts, Journalism and Sports Medicine.

Mesalands Community College, New Mexico
That's me in the blue t-shirt in the middle picture, during a blacksmithing class last semester!

Credits from a community college transfer fairly easily to larger colleges or universities as well. Many students will start their college career at a community college to get a foundation in their field before transferring to another school for the classes more detailed to their particular program. Oftentimes, this is also much, much cheaper than taking all classes at a large university.

Being involved with a variety of activities at the college is also a really great idea. Don't roll your eyes reading that... I know it gets old to hear it! Honestly, though, being a member of the college's rodeo team is one of the best things about college for me. I love being able to arrive at practice, and tease, prank, pick on, and otherwise torment team members as though they were my brothers and sisters. We all give and take jokes and other nonsense, and it keeps the team close. Each one of us knows that when someone needs something -- whether it be a horse, advice, an extra set of helping hands, or equipment -- someone else will be there to help. That's not to say that there's never any drama: even the closest of friends won't always get along, but we all know that we'll make things right before too long. We push each other to do our best, and learn from one another.

Our coaches are always there to teach us and work with us, and they're there for us on a more personal level as well. Bible study and food at the head coach's house on Sunday evenings? You bet we'll be there! Kickball games at the arena after practice until crazy hours of the night? Sure thing, we're up for that! There's no other team that works the way ours does. I've definitely found that the rodeo team is my "niche", if you will.

What's your niche? Don't be afraid to try something new, even if you think you know exactly where you belong.

Mesalands Community College, New Mexico

Obviously, my college is pretty unique. Every school has its perks and its downfalls, and it's up to each one of us to choose what we like, what we can tolerate, and what we absolutely don't want in a school. Those choices will be different for everyone, and that is completely okay. Particularly when you're taking your first steps into college, though, don't be afraid to start at a smaller school. The general atmosphere of a community college may help to ease your transition away from home, and into the start of adulthood!

Here are Rebecca's other posts, in case you missed them:

Best of luck in all your endeavors,
and as you move forward on your college path!

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