100 Years, 100 Stories
As a former corporate trainer and business owner, Byers hit a string of bad luck when the economy began to go south. He had to sell his business and immediately started looking for a way to continue to support himself and his children as a single parent.
Byers came to MCC looking for new opportunities. “I came to MCC-Longview because I had hit a ceiling in what I could accomplish without a degree,” said Byers. With that motivation Byers enrolled as a full-time student with 12 hours at MCC-Longview for the fall semester in 2008. He had decided that his skills would be better used as a teacher.
As an established adult, Byers was apprehensive about going back to school. As a very gifted high school student, he had often been bored and not fully engaged in the required curriculum. Byers chose to drop out of school and earned his GED. “It was a poor decision that I was never able to fully overcome despite moderate professional success,” recalled Byers. Because of his prior educational experience, he was nervous about another attempt. “I wasn’t sure how well I would do and whether it would keep me engaged.” Byers also expressed concern for balancing work, school and his two children. “Fortunately, I had great professors and met several other students that were in similar circumstances. Best of all, I found out that I was very good at grasping the content of my classes and exploring it deeper. Furthermore, I was able to help my fellow classmates which emboldened me to commit to my own success. It helps when others believe in you. You feel a responsibility to achieve and set high goals when others are looking at you for inspiration.”
With an original plan to become an educator, Byers found other opportunities and influences while at MCC-Longview that changed his mind. “I think my passion changed with every great professor I had at MCC-Longview. I think at one time or another I wanted to be an Anthropologist (Melissa Eaton), a Historian (David Miller), a Teacher (Bridget Gold/Barbara Eubank), a Biologist (Gene Fenster) and an Economist.” After graduating in 2011 with an associate of arts degree in teaching, Byers decided to pursue a bachelor degree in international relations. “I’m not completely sure how I came to that conclusion, but I certainly benefitted from the liberal arts approach to education as it widened my perspective in a number of areas.”
Byers’ exceptional GPA and campus involvement made him an exciting prospect to other schools. He had also earned the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship in 2011 which agreed to provide an additional $30,000/year to complete my undergrad enabling him to choose to go wherever he wanted, and there were plenty of choices. “There was never a doubt that if I could obtain funding to attend a premier institution outside of the KC area that I would go. As a result of my work with Phi Theta Kappa and my leadership activities on campus and in the community, I was offered many generous scholarships from a variety of universities including Columbia, Penn, Syracuse, Rockhurst and Cornell University.”
With all of the offers from prestigious Universities waiting for response, Byers opened an email one day that he thought was from Cornell University, but it was actually from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. They were offering a sizeable scholarship and inviting him to tour their campus. Having already visited the aforementioned universities, he went. He decided he liked Cornell College’s Block program approach to education, the very small class sizes, and their flexibility in the study abroad program. What really became the deciding factor for Byers, was, “[Falling] in love with their campus, the professors, and the intellectual quality of the students.” Byers’ daughter will begin attending Cornell College in the fall of 2015 after earning her own sizeable scholarship.
After graduating with a dual major in International Relations and Russian Studies, Byers studied in St. Petersburg, Russia for a year with the help of Cornell College and the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation impacting his dreams and improving his Russian language skills.
Byers is now studying Eurasian energy policy and economics at the European University in St. Petersburg, Russia. His master degree thesis is on energy efficiency models and what domestic and international policies have effects on them. Although Byers’ educational experience is nearing an end, he is developing his own company, Luria, which creates study abroad and internship opportunities to Western students in St. Petersburg. He also writes commentary and analysis of energy politics and economics. “Ironically, I am creating a scholarship program specifically to assist MCC students in travelling to St. Petersburg for additional studies and internships as a way to giving back for all the financial and academic support I received from MCC-Longview,” said Byers. His ultimate goal is to write articles for news sources, be a consultant and provide research to global think tanks on energy related issues. He also has a dream to open a Kansas City style barbecue restaurant in St. Petersburg so they can experience “REAL BBQ.”
J.R. Byers attended MCC with a goal to get the most out of his education. He is proud to continue to push limits and achieve.