Karen Draper started her college career at Gateway Technical College in her mid-30s, and it wasn’t even intentional.
“I was 36 when I started at Gateway, and it was ‘accidentally on purpose.’ I first came here with my daughter for her financial aid appointment as she explored her possible start at Gateway, but I was the one who ended up starting college that fall.”
To help her through the process, Karen became part of the Step UP Program, which gives direct assistance to students that reduces barriers to employment through academic and career guidance.
“The Step UP Program, for me, was my first time really getting an idea of what college life could be like outside of the classroom. It helped create a sense of camaraderie and community for me,” says Karen.
“I’d never pursued college before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know all the ins and outs or possibilities. It was refreshing. It was fun. It was exciting. And it allowed me to take a breath to get away from the homework and discussion posts.”
Karen engaged in every opportunity she found at Gateway, including Study Abroad, which helped her travel across the globe and learn to apply her skills in many different situations.
“I went to Spain, Switzerland and Australia and the experience was absolutely beautiful. It was eye-opening, life-changing. If I never get the opportunity to go anywhere else in the world, I feel so blessed, so special and so privileged for the experiences I’ve had,” says Karen.
“The number of students of color who don’t participate in these types of opportunities is huge. We often think this is something we can’t do because we can’t afford it. I knew these places – like Australia – existed, but not only was traveling and seeing the world not an option in my household, it wasn’t a conversation either. I’m so thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to see the beauty of other countries.”
Today, Karen and her daughter have both graduated from Gateway.
“I’ve learned a lot – not just from classroom material, but through the outside experiences too,”says Karen. “I’ve learned who I am as a person and I better understand what my strengths and skills are. Gateway helped me discover my untapped potential and helped me develop the gifts inside of myself that I didn’t know I had. I’m thankful, I’m grateful and I’m a better person because of Gateway.”