Learning about yourself is the unexpected gift of the college experience, as Emily Cass ’20 found out.
A first-generation college student from Braintree, VT, Emily first enrolled in the engineering program at a much larger university — but learned the first week that it wasn’t right for her. “I wasn’t passionate about the project the class was working on and felt intimidated by the class size,” she said.
She had some friends at Northern Vermont University’s Johnson campus who were positive about their experience there, she said. Seeking smaller class sizes and the opportunity to build relationships, she changed both schools and majors the following semester, enrolling at NVU-Johnson as a dual math and education major pursuing secondary education licensure.
Emily’s strengths in math had led her to tutor fellow students in high school. “It felt so rewarding to help someone get there — to understand math,” she said. So setting out to become a math teacher seemed like a natural fit.
As for making the connections she was seeking — “at Johnson, I definitely did. The professors are so passionate about what they’re doing and about working with students.”
She jumped into the full experience, running with the women’s varsity cross-country and track teams as well as participating in the Student Government Association. And Emily’s status as a first-generation college student brought her in touch with the Johnson TRIO program and “a community of adults to go to for questions — and snacks!” she said.
In her final semester, Emily changed course and dropped her dual focus on education. “My gut was telling me it wasn’t the right time to finish that part of my degree, and I realized I wanted to get some real-world experience in math before teaching. Being in the classroom [as a student teacher] was different than being in class, and I needed to work on my confidence,” she said.
Emily’s final semester shift allowed her the time to take a variety of courses, and to take it a bit easier. She’s glad she gave herself some time. “I’m not in a rush,” she said. “And I knew that if I got a teaching license I would get a teaching position, and I would want to commit to that school for a number of years. And I wasn’t ready to do that.”
Now Emily is considering a number of possibilities for the future, including a master’s or Ph.D. in math. She also may go into a career that utilizes math first — such as accounting, economics, or finance, she said. In the meantime, she’s happily employed working with toddlers in a daycare center.
Emily says her experience at NVU helped her to understand herself as a learner. Her advice to new students: “Be kind to yourself. Talk to new people. Put yourself out there. Go to your professor’s office for help. Raise your hand and ask questions. You’re there for your education.”