Editor Emerita - Mariana BrazWhat do James Dean, Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, you and I have all have in common? We have all attended community colleges.

Community colleges can be more than just a cheap way into a degree.

I am originally from Brazil and English is my second language. I already had finished my Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in Brazil when I decided to come to the USA and go to Mercer.

One of the reasons I chose a community college was to improve my English.

I attended Mercer full-time for 3 years and earned two Associate degrees, graduating in 2013. While I was here I made sure to take advantage of everything I needed to prepare myself  with some skills that would help to find a job and continue on my education path.

As a Mercer student I took Honors classes and I was part of the TV club and PTK. But it was at The College VOICE, the student newspaper, that I gained the most.

I started as a cub reporter, and was soon voted by my peers to be the News Editor. The following semester I was voted to be Managing Editor, and finally Editor-in-Chief.

It was a lot of responsibility balancing school, full-time work and the deadlines and demands of the newspaper, but I got to travel to media conferences in Chicago and New York with other staffers, I won national awards for my writing and top of that I made new friends.

At Mercer I improved my writing and verbal skills, creative thinking, project management, and leadership. That got me into graduate school, and it also increased my competitiveness when searching for jobs.

In case you are thinking I am just some kind of Wonder Woman, I can assure you I am not. But I asked a few of my fellow VOICE staffers, who came from local high schools and saw themselves as kind of unmotivated or directionless when they got to Mercer, how their time here changed them.

Kyle Kondor, a former VOICE editor who graduated last spring, says: “Upon entering Mercer I was immature and naive to the fact that a good education is mandatory today. As a student aspiring to get my associate’s degree in Communication: New Media, I was exposed to several different career paths.”

He also said that working for The College VOICE, where he became Sports Editor after his consistent improvement with writing, helped him in his decision to pursue Journalism.

“I’m now a double major at Indiana University, and I can confidently say that I desperately needed Mercer in order to prepare for everything that I’m currently doing.”

Kondor is now working for the student media at Indiana University of Pennsylvania as a producer on the student-operated sports TV show and is responsible for content and assigning jobs to all 40 staff members on each production night. He has produced and edited documentaries, is an analyst on the sports radio show, and the color analyst during the women’s basketball games. In his free time he writes for the town paper, The Indiana Gazette.

Like Kondor, Zac Santanello, a former VOICE Photography Editor started as a Business Administration major and then switched to Communication: New Media.

“Over the course of my time at Mercer I began to focus my talents towards and take photography more seriously as my professional aspiration,” said Santanello.

Santanello won several national journalism awards for his photography, always competing against students from four-year schools. He won First Place for breaking news photography and was a finalist for Feature photography in the Society of Professional Journalist’s Mark of Excellence Awards 2013-2014.

Today, Santanello is attending the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. He says,  “I can safely say that without Mercer, and Photography Coordinator Michael Dalton specifically, my career trajectory would likely be very different.”

I have talked to students who feel ashamed to tell people they go to a community college, but they shouldn’t be.

According to the American Association of Community Colleges more than 6 million students in the US are enrolled at a community college.

Community college is good for all kinds of students, including students who aren’t sure of their direction yet, who were bored in high school or didn’t do well and need to catch up, who don’t have much money, or ones like me who came to improve their English.

Community college works if you work for it.

Start with the clubs. There is one for practically every interest. If you like adrenaline, making friends, and the gratification of seeing your work in print, The College VOICE is a good start. Jobs and transfer colleges are looking for students with strong communications skills and The VOICE will force you to improve your writing quickly.

Another way to boost your chance of getting the most out of Mercer is to take advantage of professors’ office hours. Find your advisor or just find professors you like and can talk to. When the time comes it will be a lot easier to get registered for the right classes or get rec letters when you are ready to transfer.

Even if you are one of those students who just come to campus and then leave, try to take advantage of what’s here, much of which is free.

Mariana Braz is now a graduate student in the Corporate Communication program at Baruch College- CUNY in NY. She has gotten a variety of internships in her field and interviewed at big companies such as Michael Kors and GlaxoSmithKline.

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