Jennifer Shuping Patton – Class of 1982
Director of TRiO Programs, Western Piedmont Community College

Western Piedmont Community College is unquestionably one of the most important institutions in Burke County, providing not only quality education for all but also a variety of opportunities to people who may otherwise have not been able to succeed. The TRiO Programs, consisting of Educational Talent Search and Student Support Services, are designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds and are administered, funded, and implemented by the United States Department of Education.

Jennifer Shuping Patton, director of the WPCC TRiO Programs, explains how the service works. “The Educational Talent Search (ETS) Program is designed to help low-income young people from all across Burke County who plan to become first generation college students, meaning they will be the first in their families to attend college. We begin recruiting these young people as early as sixth grade in order to help them overcome any barriers they may encounter on their path to higher education. We have three counselors who are able to work with 650 students in the middle and high schools across Burke County and help them to attend the college or university that they choose. We have an office in each high school, where we meet twice a week with the students, assisting them with such tasks as filling out college applications and financial aid forms. Usually these young people ‘don’t know what they don’t know,’ and we can ‘hold their hands’ and guide them through this challenging process. Whatever problems they may be facing – everything from choosing a school to experiencing test anxiety to managing their time – we can find strategies to help them succeed. We frequently take students on college tours. Some are local, but we have also taken students to visit such campuses as Harvard and MIT. In addition, we provide them with a variety of cultural events and activities to enrich and broaden their experiences both personally and educationally.”

The Student Support Services (SSS) program, also part of TRiO, is designed to help students who are enrolled at WPCC. “Much like the Talent Search students, these young people are part of a marginalized population. They are also from low-income environments and are first generation college students. The goals of SSS are retention and graduation. We help them to stay in school and earn a diploma. We can assist them with whatever they need in order for them to stay in school – everything from instructional services and tutoring to finding childcare or helping with an electric bill. Sometimes the problems are challenging, but sometimes they have a simple solution. Whatever obstacle that may arise that could keep them from completing their education, we can find assistance. If they plan to transfer to a four-year college or university after completing their time at WPCC, we are there to provide advice, encouragement, and assistance along the way. For the most part, these young people never expected to be able to achieve a higher education or training, and it is very gratifying to see them graduate and often go on to a four-year school.”

Jennifer’s job as director focuses on administrative tasks. She handles the day-to-day activities including budget, staffing, public relations, and frequent communication with the US Department of Education. It is also her responsibility to write the grants that keep the federal funding available so that the program can continue. The grant must be renewed every five years, and it is no small task to show how the required objectives have been met, document how the grant money has been used, and plan goals for the future. All of those responsibilities are vital, but, she says, “My biggest joy is the service part when I am able to work one-on-one with the students, and my greatest satisfaction is seeing them meet their goals and earn a degree or move on to more studies.”

Sometimes people are led to their career mission in an unusual way, and Jennifer is a good example of someone following a non-traditional path. “When I was in high school, most of my friends and classmates had made their career choices and were eager for new experiences. But I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was floating in a sea of uncertainty. I had worked since I was 14 years old, so I had established a good work ethic, took pride in my accomplishments, and enjoyed being able to pay my way. I worked at World of Apparel all through high school and while I attended classes at WPCC, where I earned my Associate of Fine Arts degree. I took a job in the advertising department at The News Herald and spent much of my time driving around the community working with businesses and their advertising needs. I frequently drove past the WPCC campus and would see people who worked there turning in the road to the school, and I would think how proud I would be if I, too, could be an employee there.”

As an adult with a growing family, Jennifer enrolled in the Global Opportunities for Adult Learners (GOAL) program at Garner-Webb University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Human Services. In 2000, she received a call from a friend asking her if she was familiar with the Educational Talent Search program at WPCC. She applied and was hired as a part-time counselor, and, after envisioning it for so long, “I was happy to be able to turn in to the campus as an employee.”

The director of ETS at the time was Maureen Schwind. “She was a huge influence and a mentor to me. Her encouragement and guidance were invaluable.” In 2010, Jennifer earned a Master’s degree in Higher Education from Appalachian State and became director of the programs in 2012. “It has been my passion ever since.”

Jennifer credits Kathryn Siphers as the teacher who influenced her the most. “When I was in the fourth grade, Miss Siphers invited me to play the violin and participate in the school orchestra. As a result, she not only taught me to play an instrument that is unconventional for most public school students, but she also boosted my self-esteem by choosing me. It was just what I needed. She was an exceptional teacher and a formidable woman. I was in awe of her and, like many others, a bit scared of her. She demanded excellence, and I wanted to live up to her expectations. Being her student taught me how to take direction and how to give everything I had to the task. Not a week goes by that I don’t think of her and how her guidance and direction made me a better person. I had so much respect for her, and she was just the type of teacher and guide that I needed at the time. We played for many different types of programs, but one of my best memories is performing in the orchestra for several of the musical theater productions presented by East Burke at the Old Rock School. I was able to play alongside professors and other professional musicians, and it was a good learning experience as well as great fun.

“Sherron Prewitt was another great female role model for me. In addition to being her student, I was also able to work with her professionally through the ETS program. I have been greatly impressed by her style, her presence, and her manner of dealing with people.

“I am doing exactly what I want to be doing. My goal is to continue to do good work so that the grants will be there to help these students to find success both educationally and professionally and to become self-confident and productive members of their communities.”

Published May 2021

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