As a graduate of Bay de Noc Community College, more commonly known as Bay College, I found my experience there to be a wonderful introduction to not just higher education, but also to visual art. Located in Escanaba, just minutes from Lake Michigan, the campus is filled with works of art. Interior walls are lined with original pieces from student and community artists. The courtyard is filled with plant life and sculptures. Even the architecture of the buildings is artistic and interesting.

I graduated from Bay College with an associate degree in art and design, and then I returned to the college to help other students as a College Completion Corps coach through MCAN. I work with students, alongside their co-advisers, to support them academically and help them find resources that will keep them on their education journey.

Through my time as a student and now a coach, I’ve been able to bond with people in two different capacities. Because of this, I’ve known one of the students I am coaching from my own time as a student. Her name is Janeen, and we had art classes together before I took this position in January. Having her assigned to me allowed me to get to know her better than I had before. She’s an art and design major, but she’s also a nontraditional student and the main provider for her household. She works and lives an hour away from campus and commutes a few days a week to be able to attend Bay. In addition to the visible challenges of money, time, and responsibility, Janeen has also struggled with self-esteem her whole life. For nontraditional students, that self-doubt can make coming back to school daunting. She battled with fears of school not working out, but she applied to Bay and has succeeded academically. For Janeen, the people at Bay empowered her to face that challenge, and I’m glad I got to be a part of that.

When Janeen told me she had won Bay College’s Exemplary Persistence Award, I shouldn’t have been surprised. I watched Janeen give a speech at the award ceremony, and realized she has exactly what was needed to earn that award. She has grit, determination, a creative and kind mind, and most definitely persistence. She’s taking that perseverance into her next step — heading downstate to attend Kendall College of Art and Design and continue her interior design studies. Throughout her time at Bay, she maintained a 3.9/3.8 GPA, participated in Art Club, produced new works of art for classes as well as outside of class, and continued to be present in her friends’ and family’s lives.

She is heading off to pursue great things, and I will miss her. However, I am so proud of her for accomplishing all she did. In order to celebrate her and affirm my faith in her, I commissioned one of her pieces. I got it framed and matted, and it is the first piece in my art collection. I don’t know what I will collect next, but I’m glad I started it with a piece that means so much.