Over the course of the last year, students were forced to adapt to new learning environments nearly overnight. Northeast Alabama Community College (NACC) faculty members quickly implemented new ways to deliver course content to their students. Keeping the ability for students to interact with one another, NACC math department faculty implemented group chats in their courses as part of their growth mindset curriculum.
NACC student Haley Travis found inspiration in an unusual place – her college math class. Travis, a non-traditional student, began taking courses at Northeast in 2018. When asked what drove her to return to college, Travis spoke of her family. “I am a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom,” said Travis. She continued, “As I watched my children grow and mature, I saw them become more independent. It hit me that they would finish school and go off on their own, and I wondered, “What would I do?” I began to think about going back to school to get a degree, although I had no idea what I wanted to study,” Travis said.
Travis sought out guidance from the College and Career Planning Center team at Northeast the summer before she began taking courses at the college. “I met with Mrs. Sherry Whitten in the summer of 2018,” remembered Travis. “I believe we spent about 3 hours together. I cried at least two times as I tried to decide what I wanted to be “when I grow up”,” said Travis.
Determined to find a degree plan that could be completed mostly online, Travis worked with Mrs. Whitten to find the right fit, ultimately deciding to pursue social work. “As Mrs. Whitten named off a list of degrees, she mentioned Social Work. My ears perked up because my husband and I had fostered children for two years, but I could not handle the stress I put on myself and my family during that time. I always had a thought in the back of my mind that I still needed to be helping somehow, and this mention of social work triggered something inside me,” explained Travis.
In an effort to encourage students to interact with one another, Northeast math department faculty like Ms. Milah Breland accomplished this in an unusual way. Ms. Breland and the math department implemented growth mindset videos, followed by a series of prompts that sparked chatter among the students. Questions like “What is your “why”?” and “What motivates you to complete your college degree?” and “How have you grown in this course?” are just a few examples of the prompts given to students. The department also utilizes a growth mindset module developed by Juliah Sanford, NACC Director of Developmental Studies Support Programs & College Retention, in their course curriculum.
Breland took notice of Travis’s enthusiasm when responding to the growth mindset group chat prompts. She remembered one response specifically, where Travis shared how impactful the course was for her. “I took Math110 last semester, and the growth mindset videos changed my life – seriously! I don't know how many times I quoted those videos to myself or others. They were very motivational and helpful in every aspect of my life.” Travis said she was only being herself when responding to the course prompts, saying, “I have always been one to speak freely and share my thoughts honestly. I wanted to share my outlook and hoped others would take notice of how much the videos could help when applied.”
Breland recalled how Travis’s responses in the group discussions provided other students with the motivational support they needed to interact with each other during a time of separation and remote instruction. When prompted, students shared responses such as:
- “I love the way NACC sets up math classes. I have been more successful in these classes than in any other math class I’ve ever taken.”
- “I am the first kid in my family to go to college, so I want to finish college and help give back to them because they’ve done so much for me.”
- “I cannot agree more about how taking math classes at NACC have helped. The teachers care and want you to succeed so it's another form of support that I feel every student needs…”
- “Developing a growth mindset is hard. Taking math classes through NACC has helped me. In the past, I would have given up if I struggled or made a low test grade, but not now. I have learned to try harder instead of giving up.”
When asked about the growth mindset portion of her math class, Travis said it was a great surprise. “The way the math course was organized was definitely a surprise! I never expected to be so impacted by those videos and group chats,” said Travis. “I mentioned in one group chat that I had put math off, purposefully, until the end because I dreaded it so much. If I had known then what I know now, I would’ve taken math right up front! The growth mindset videos mixed with the Kindness 101 videos have literally changed my life!”
Travis also understands her position as a non-traditional student allowed her to see the course at a unique angle. “I hope that other students have been as impacted by these videos as I have been. I was asked last semester if I thought my age had anything to do with how impacted I was by the videos, and I think it must. If I am honest with myself, as a young adult fresh out of high school, they probably wouldn’t have affected me as deeply,” Travis answered.
As a local community college, NACC provides accessible opportunities for non-traditional students to achieve their educational and career goals. In Travis’s case, utilizing online classes allowed her to continue her education while taking care of her family. When asked if she would recommend Northeast to other non-traditional students, Travis replied, “Absolutely! I have been so grateful for the opportunity to learn online at home while still maintaining my priorities of being a wife and a mom.”
Travis says a few special teachers have encouraged her along the way. “There were wonderful teachers who have made themselves available to me. Mr. Ragsdale, Ms. Rice, Mr. Kleve, Mr. Whited, and Ms. Breland are among the top in my book. They have all impacted me along the way, whether they know it or not. I will be forever grateful for their encouragement and desire for my success.”
While the coronavirus pandemic threw many students a unique and unexpected curve ball, Travis said her ongoing experience with online courses helped prepare her. “Like I mentioned earlier, I began online courses in 2018, well before the pandemic was in play. I wanted to have an online-only course load, so the pandemic didn’t change my school experience,” Travis said. Online courses have changed her outlook, however. “Aside from the pandemic, I have certainly learned a lot about how hard I can push myself. I have never been one to set goals, but Northeast has taught me to set goals and devise a plan to reach them. I had very little faith in myself when I began college, but now I know I can do anything I set my mind to do!”
Travis is quickly approaching the end of her journey at Northeast. She plans to transfer to the University of Alabama (UA) this fall to obtain a Bachelor of Social Work through the university’s Bama by Distance Program. Travis then hopes to continue at UA in their nationally ranked Master of Social Work program.
Travis hopes her experience at Northeast can inspire other non-traditional students to pursue their goals. When asked what advice she had for those considering going back to school, she said, “I have been blessed with time to work on my assignments, but there are so many individuals who come back to college while being single parents or working full time. My advice is to never give up on themselves, set goals that are attainable, and don’t ever look back.” She added, “I still can’t look to the future without getting overwhelmed, and there are days I think it will never happen (achieving my goals). Yet, someday, I know I will look back and realize I am where I always wanted to be.”
Travis strives to focus on the present, sharing one of her favorite quotes that dates back to the 1880s. The quote reads, “Think not on the past or future, the present is all thou hast. Future shall soon be present, and present shall soon be past.”
It is never too late to begin your future. If you are interested in becoming a student at NACC, visit the college online at www.nacc.edu or call 256-228-6001 or 256-638-4418.