MCC degree was ‘pivotal for me,’ says Rockhurst director of academic advising

Robert Hamilton, director of academic advising for Rockhurst University’s College of Arts and Sciences, graduated from MCC-Maple Woods in 1995. (Photo by Estuardo Garcia)

Robert Hamilton has three college degrees, but his associate in arts degree from Metropolitan Community College is in a category of its own.

“That A.A. has a place in my heart because it was pivotal for me,” says Hamilton, Rockhurst University’s director of academic advising for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Hamilton, 46, grew up in the San Diego area. After high school, he joined the workforce — eventually as an installer of phone systems — and took a handful of community college classes. At 22, he moved to Kansas City with friends, hoping to land another telecommunications job. Instead, he started waiting tables at 54th Street Grill & Bar on Englewood Road in the Northland.

He was directionless.

A few months after arriving here (in 1992 or so), he decided to take a summer class at MCC-Maple Woods: English composition. It would be a turning point.

The campus “met all my needs,” Hamilton says. “It was accessible, it was affordable, it was convenient.”

Best of all was the class. “The instructor really challenged me, and that summer I started to find myself as a writer.”

He’s not kidding about the challenging part. Hamilton remembers turning in an observational piece on an NBA finals game on TV. “I thought I had written a good essay,” he says.

But the paper read like he’d just thrown it together, the composition instructor told him. The word “drivel” may have been used. Hamilton was sent off to the Maple Woods writing lab.

That summer, the instructor continued to “hold my feet to the fire to do good work,” and by the time the semester was over, Hamilton’s writing had improved.

That wouldn’t be the only memorable faculty member or course he’d encounter in the two years it took him to complete his  degree at Maple Woods. There was Dr. Leon Ogilvie, a history instructor who “gave us 11-page exams” in a 50-minute class.

He signed up for a music appreciation class that he thought would be easy, but Dr. Desmond Daniels “took it very seriously, and I worked as hard on that class as I did for any other class.” He got a B+.

“I tell advisees that story every year,” Hamilton says.

But he worked hard in a lot of his MCC classes, and when he transferred to the University of Missouri-Kansas City he found he was well prepared for upper-division courses.

Hamilton would earn a bachelor of arts in communication studies in 1997 and a master of arts in the same field in 2000, both from UMKC. He taught as a grad assistant there as well and was an advisor for a year.

He has worked at Rockhurst University for 15 years, during which he has also taught communication classes part time.

When Hamilton spoke at a meeting of MCC academic advisors and financial aid counselors in March, he mentioned how meaningful his MCC degree is to him.

In addition to everything else, completing the associate degree at MCC “facilitated me getting into a four-year university,” which then led to graduate school and a career.

“I love working with transfer students from MCC,” he says. “Students don’t always think of Rockhurst, but we offer great scholarships, and now we have a transfer agreement where we accept the A.A., so they only have to take a couple of (additional) core classes.”

The new Rockhurst program, for students with an A.A. from an accredited college, requires only nine credit hours (three courses) to complete Rockhurst’s core curriculum instead of more than 20 hours, which used to be the case. The three upper-division courses count toward the bachelor’s degree.

“I always love meeting with MCC students,” Hamilton says. “They’re my people.”