#MCCGrads2017: Student with a passion for helping people started college at 16

Emma Thoman was considered shy and quiet, but being a peer mentor for two years at MCC-Maple Woods brought her out of her shell, she says. (Photo by Taylor Gibson/Capture Joy Photography)

It’s not unusual for a student to take a class in high school that qualifies as college credit. Emma Thoman, however, started taking classes on an actual college campus — Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods — when she was just 16.

She’s now 19 and will graduate on May 17 with her MCC associate in arts degree.

Thoman, who lives in Holt, Mo., was being home-schooled when she started at MCC-Maple Woods in the fall of 2014. At first she took just a couple of classes a semester.

“It was very stressful to me,” Thoman remembers. Although she interacted with other home-school students from time to time, “it was a big difference for me to go into a classroom” — where she was younger than everyone else.

She graduated from high school at home the following spring. In the fall of 2015 at Maple Woods, she found herself struggling with a human anatomy class.

“No matter how much I knew, or told the professor what I knew, I still got really bad grades on the tests.”

She was encouraged to visit the Maple Woods counseling office. Her parents went along.

Lead counselor Clayton Robinson suggested several strategies to ease her test anxiety. For example: Go into the classroom just a couple of minutes before the start of class instead of 10 minutes or more before, during which classmates talk about the test. Focus on breathing or thinking about something else. When taking the exam, consider one question at a time. Otherwise, “I would freak out because I saw questions I didn’t know,” Thoman says.

She repeated the class the next semester and got an A.

Robinson also encouraged her to become a peer mentor, which made a big difference.

“Being a peer mentor definitely got me out of my home-schooling box,” Thoman says.

Robinson says: “I knew she was ready for the challenge, and she didn’t disappoint at all.  She has been an inspiration and motivation for many students she has mentored. That assignment was really instrumental in helping shape her personal and professional growth process.”

The job matches each mentor with a group of mentees. When she started, she was two years younger than the other mentors.

“I was nervous at first,” Thoman says, “but after a while I needed to get out of my shell and just be really friendly with people, because they were new here, too.

“I see several of the people I mentored around campus. We stop and have a conversation and just catch up. It was so much fun helping them get through their first semester of college.”

And, by the way, if anyone was having trouble taking tests, “I know who to go to for that,” Thoman would tell them — and share her own story.

Last fall she also got a job as a student services assistant in the Career and Counseling Services office. She has given campus tours to new students and helped at new-student enrollment sessions. Her service as a campus leader earned her a Student Leadership Award from the Missouri Community College Association last year.

The highlight of her time at MCC? That would be working in Career and Counseling Services.

“Being a student worker, I’ve gotten to know so many of the faculty and the deans,” she says. “It made my experience just so much more enjoyable to walk into a building and have the dean of students or even the president say, ‘Hey, Emma, how are you doing today?’ ”

She is actually the fourth and final Thoman sibling to take MCC-Maple Woods classes as a home-schooler, but she is the first to actually earn an MCC associate degree.

“I’m really excited,” she says. “Yea! I get to walk finally.”

She’s planning to transfer to Park University to work on a bachelor’s degree in either public administration or social psychology: “I have a passion for helping people.”

On May 13, she added, she would be volunteering with the Global Orphan Project. The GO Feed 100K initiative aims to bring Kansas Citians together to pack 100,000 meals for children in Haiti.

MCC-Maple Woods has been a great starting point for Thoman, Robinson says. She has “a ton” of talent and potential.

“I am very proud and honored to have worked with Emma in many areas.  She will remain one of my all-time favorite students.”