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“I never thought I would have gone to college,” says 21-year-old Cassie Piper, a native of Derby. It’s an incredible statement from a young woman who will graduate this month from NVU-Johnson with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a minor in Anthropology and Sociology, an associate’s degree in Business Management, and a certificate in Small Business Management.
“It’s a mouthful,” says Cassie with a laugh. “But it was all worth it–and I paid the same amount over four years, whether I got just one degree or all those extra credentials, so I figured I might as well go for it!”
Cassie’s mom and dad, who work in a clothing factory and as a truck driver, respectively, did not go to college, and Cassie credits VSAC with getting her on the path to Johnson. “When I was younger, I didn’t really think about college, because I’m a first-generation student and I come from a low-income family,” she says. “But once I got into seventh grade and got set up with a VSAC counselor, I got the idea that I was going to go to college and get a career. VSAC got me thinking about the opportunities that would open up for me with a college degree.”
However, the challenges associated with being a first-generation student didn’t stop at the end of the application and admission processes. Once she got to college, “it was a struggle at first to understand everything that was going on. Financial aid was a big one,” says Cassie, who paid for her education all on her own, by working two and sometimes three jobs while taking a full course load. “I worked as a police dispatcher, worked in the admissions office, for campus public safety, and various campus administrative jobs,” she says, which resulted in long hours, but also, now, a long and full resume of experience that she hopes will get her a good job.
Her goals today are to get a job in Vermont and be able to start and raise a family here, hopefully in Orleans County. She’s starting by applying to jobs at several places in the Northeast Kingdom, including U.S. Customs and Immigration at the U.S./Canada border, as well as North Country Hospital.
Applying for jobs is a little harder these days, in the midst of COVID-19, she says–particularly for jobs with the federal government, which already have very thorough application processes. But she’s sticking with it, completing it section by section, which comes as no surprise to Trish Turner, Cassie’s VSAC outreach counselor. “Cassie showed incredible grit, determination, and independence to get where she is today,” she recalls. “She was one of my star GEAR UP students at North Country Union High School,” from which Cassie graduated in 2016.
Cassie says VSAC was helpful at all stages of the college process–from campus visits, to applications, to scholarships, even to choosing the most advantageous college major. “Just being able to talk to someone who knows what they’re doing, instead of talking to my family, who had never been through the process and had never been to college, was incredibly helpful,” she says.
When asked what advice she might give to current middle schoolers who are where she was in seventh grade, Cassie says right away: “I would say definitely work with VSAC and get the help they offer. They were amazing. I still talk to my counselors today, even though I’m not in their caseload. Without their help, I probably wouldn’t have gone to college at all.”
Need help with pursuing your career goals and education needs? VSAC is here to help you. Serving our community is at the heart of all we do. During this ever-changing time, we remain available and committed to help you navigate all your career and education needs. No question or worry is too small or too big to reach out to us and ask for help.
For information on college and career planning and decisions, go to www.vsac.org/decision and also check out our online workshops and resources and online events. For an update of how we can help during the COVID-19 crisis, click here. You can also give us a call at 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday and online at email@example.com. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay in touch. We’re here for you.