Ever since she was a little girl, Eve McGee wanted to be a social worker. She wanted to help people and solve problems. Her parents, though, weren’t wild about the idea; they were concerned that Eve would be linked to a stereotype that attributes social workers to the unjust removal of children from their homes. And then there was the profession’s high rate of burn-out. And don’t even get them started on the low earning potential.
Still, it was what Eve wanted to do. But, studying to become a social worker takes a lot of work, and Eve wasn’t sure she was cut out for it.
Applying to a big university not only seemed out of reach, but really wasn’t even on her radar.
“At 18, I didn’t have the forethought to know that I could apply to a university,” she said. “I assumed no college would take me because of my grades.”
But whether or not to attend college was not a choice in Eve’s family. Her parents, both college graduates themselves, instilled in Eve and her sister the importance of higher education, especially as young women of color.
So, as soon as she graduated from Hickman Mills High School, Eve enrolled at MCC-Penn Valley. She felt intimidated and underprepared. But fortunately, she met a few instructors in her first year who helped her change her perspective. They helped her see that she did, indeed, have what it took to succeed in college.
Take her freshman-level biology class, for example. Science is not Eve’s strong suit, and she struggled mightily in the class. By the midterm, she was earning an ‘F.’ She wanted to give up. Just then, her instructor, Keet Kopecky, scheduled a meeting with her to talk about how he and she could work together so she could learn the material and pass the class.
“He saved me,” she said, sincerely. “He spent a couple of hours with me that day; he hooked me up with a tutor. I didn’t even know that service was available.”
Each week, the tutor joined Eve at her biology lab class, stood next to her and put into laymen’s terms the essential concepts needed to complete that day’s lab. Through her own determination, and with the help of Keet and the tutor, Eve passed the class. And that helped her start viewing college success as an attainable challenge rather than an out-of-reach goal.
Other instructors and advisors contributed to Eve’s journey towards self-confidence, too. History instructor Priscilla Jackson-Evans helped her “learn how to be a good student.”
“She taught me how to effectively and efficiently comprehend key concepts embedded within textbooks, how to take notes, how to study for a test, how to use critical thinking,” Eve said. “And when she gave me those skills, I had an ‘aha!’ moment; I thought, ‘this is doable,’ and then I believed in myself.”
Despite earning this crucial and pivotal confidence boost early on, Eve’s time at MCC still involved a lot of hard work. Like many students, she didn’t have a ton of resources at her fingertips. She had moved out of her family’s home and was riding the bus to Penn Valley every day; then, she got pregnant and needed to transfer to MCC-Longview so that, between her parents and the on-campus childcare center, she would have someone to watch her baby while she went to school. She pieced together tuition from Pell grants, Perkins loans and other financial aid.
Despite the challenges, Eve did it.
She earned an associate degree from MCC-Penn Valley in 1989, and then a few years later earned a second associate degree—in human services, a pathway to her desired field of social work—from MCC-Longview. She then started taking bachelor’s-level classes on campus at MCC-Longview through Central Missouri State University (now University of Central Missouri) and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work. She got a job as a social worker at Swope Parkway Health Center and then at Hope House, a domestic violence shelter. Several years later, she completed the accelerated master’s of social work program at the University of Kansas.
To top it all off, the woman who as a little girl wanted to be a social worker and as a teenager wasn’t sure she had what it took to pursue that career, is on course to graduate in 2016 with a Ph.D. in social work—her fifth college degree.
Regarding the path that led to her pursuit of a doctorate degree, Eve enthusiastically points to her experience at MCC.
“Some people need to learn how to be a student. Students like me may benefit from beginning their educational journey at a community college: it is an easy transition from high school, allows more time to think about one’s career path, and provides a boost to one’s academic confidence,” she said. “Community colleges are a wonderful place for students to take their general education courses within a small class size, offering professors the opportunity to learn more about their students. I wouldn’t have made it at a big university. I wouldn’t be getting a doctorate degree if I had started at a big university.”
Eve currently serves as a social worker and the director of diversity and inclusion for the nationally-ranked University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Nursing and Health Studies. In her role, she works one-on-one with students to address non-academic and academic issues that may impede their success. In her role as director of diversity, she works to carry out the mission of UMKC to ‘embrace diversity’ by collaborating with administrators, faculty, staff and students to foster an environment at the School of Nursing and Health Studies where everyone is respected, supported, nurtured and valued.
Eve is great at her job. And she says she owes a lot of her success to her role models at MCC.
“MY MCC experience has made me a better social worker. MCC taught me the model of mentorship as it relates to student success. When it comes to student support, my mentors went above and beyond for me so I do my best to go above and beyond for my students.”
And as for her parents, who were once skeptical of her interest in becoming a social worker?
“They are on a different page about it now. They would never have comprehended I could do what I’m doing. They tell me they are very proud,” Eve smiled.